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A Brief Reply to Roger Nicole's Article: "John Calvin’s View on the Extent of the Atonement's"

July 24, 2008

[Note: The following is an extract from a larger paper, hence some of the footnotes and references may refer to other places within this work not included here.]

Roger Nicole1

Roger Nicole is regarded by many as the leading expert on all things Amyraldian and all things pertaining to Calvin’s understanding of the extent of the atonement. Once again, Nicole is responding to Kendall’s claims regarding Calvin. However, much of what he says does have a bearing here, for Nicole concentrates on the claim that Calvin advocated unlimited redemption. Pages 119-211 mainly take up the history of this debate, from Amyraut on. Pages 212-219 are taken up with a discussion of the arguments used to prove that Calvin held to unlimited redemption. The rest of the article is taken up with his arguments to the contrary. In regard to the proffered claims against the assertion that Calvin held to unlimited redemption, I will only touch on selective arguments.

Firstly, Nicole tackles some of the so-called “wasted blood” passages. He concedes that Calvin offered no explanation of the import of his statements.2 Such a statement from Nicole is exactly because he cannot take Calvin’s own statements at face value. From this Nicole sets forth his counter. Here Nicole is at his weakest. Rather than stating what Calvin believed, arguing from Calvin as a source, against the premise of unlimited atonement, Nicole proceeds to give an explanation of what he thinks the biblical verses in question mean. For example, regarding Rom 14:15, 2 Pet 2:1, etc, Nicole asserts the context is that of the weaker brother, and that Paul affirms that God will, in the end, cause them to stand and not fall. He states: “Paul’s statements do not represent an expression of doubt as to God’s perseverance with his own for whom Christ died, as a castigation of the selfishness of so-called strong Christians…”3All this is well and good, but irrelevant. What is interesting is that, as noted above, Calvin seems to imply that this destroyed weaker brother dies and that the blood of Christ really is wasted, not merely temporally rendered of no value. I am not sure how the brother who is made to ‘hurry to death’ can be said to have also been made to ‘stand in the end.’ What is of interest is the underlying assumption in Nicole’s thinking. For him to assume that this is a counter, he must be thinking that unlimited atonement, categorically, can only mean inefficacious atonement and a denial of perseverance of the saints. Once again, then, we see a false dilemma fallacy in operation. We also see a case of Nicole imposing a theological framework upon the text–he is reading it in the light of his other a priori assumptions.

Contrary to Nicole and Owens’ exegesis of Rom 14:15 and 1 Cor 8:11-12, Alan Clifford says:

Owen rejects the very basis of the Apostle’s concern: ‘That by perishing here is understood eternal destruction and damnation I cannot apprehend.’ Owen is at his most vulnerable here, for all his critical acumen seems to escape him. He was surely aware that Paul uses the same verb apollumi, ‘to destroy utterly’ as in Jn 3:16; there can be no doubt that the Apostle intends to convey the danger of eternal destruction, while it makes sense to infer that all who perish are non-elect, the irresponsibility of others is not to be viewed as a fiction, any more than the actions of those who effected the otherwise divinely appointed death of Christ.4

Clifford is right here, for I can see no other place where Paul uses apollumi in a sense other than complete loss and destruction.

In regard to Heb 10:29 and 2 Pet 2:1, Nicole, similarly, asserts that these verses apply to false professors and hypocrites.5 He then cites Calvin as noting that these and similar verses do speak of hypocrites. While this is true, it does not sustain Nicole’s thesis. Of course those who reject Christ, especially after having been within the visible church, and knowing as they ought to have known, are hypocrites. But that says nothing about what Calvin thought Christ had done for them.

After this, Nicole discusses those statements from Calvin, wherein he seems to indicate universal atonement.6 For example, Calvin: “When he says ‘the sin of the whole world,’ he extends this kindness indiscriminately to the whole human race, that the Jews might not think that the Redeemer has been sent to them alone.”7 And: “By Christ’s death, all the sins of the world have been expiated.”8 And: “He makes this favor [i.e., righteousness] common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him. And gain, Calvin: “so we see that Jesus Christ was laden with all our sins and iniquities.”9

To these and other such statements, Nicole responds by reminding us that the pronouns “we,” “us,”and so forth in many of the citations refer to believers in the world at large,10 or that he means to contrast the elect as opposed to the Jews. Then he also says:

Calvin is also concerned to express the sufficiency of the work of Christ so that no one inclined to claim this work and to cast himself or herself on the mercy of God should feel discouraged by thinking that somehow the cross would not avail him/her.11

While this is perfectly true, as far as it goes, it lacks for not taking into cognizance the nature of this sufficiency. Was it intended for all, or was it abstracted from the purpose of Christ? Should it be understood in the sense of the Medievals and other early Reformers or in the sense of the later Protestant Scholastics? Calvin expressly states that upon Christ “he alone bore the punishment of many, because on him was laid the guilt of the whole world”12 And again: Christ… took upon himself and suffered the punishment that, from God’s righteous judgment, threatened all sinners.”13 This is more than just a bare or abstract sufficiency of the Protestant Scholastics. One would be hard-pressed to argue or demonstrate that the Protestant Scholastics could have thought or assert that Christ suffered for all, bearing the sins of the whole world in his suffering and death.

Nicole then adds:

Finally in the context of many of these above quotations expressions are used that connote the actual application or attainment of salvation, not merely an impetration that would still await appropriation: ‘our sins are forgiven’ or ‘wiped away,’ God is ‘satisfied’ or ‘appeased,’ ‘we are justified,’…. In this respect, as in so many others, Calvin’s language parallels very closely the usage of Scripture… Neither the Scripture nor Calvin can be fairly interpreted to teach universal salvation, but the passages advanced as supporting universal atonement simply do not stop there. It is of course legitimate to distinguish as clearly does, between impetration and application, but it is improper to separate these, since they always go together. The choice, therefore, is not between universal atonement and definite atonement as properly representative of Calvin’s theology, but rather between universal salvation and definite atonement.14

For sure, those for whom Christ entreated effectually, to these the benefits of his expiation will necessarily be effectually applied. When Calvin speaks of the effectuality of Christ’s death for believers, he speaks to the efficiency side of the traditional sufficiency-efficiency formula. However, this does not impinge upon the fact that Calvin also held that in another sense, Christ died for all men. Calvin is not hereby negating the use of the sufficiency side of the formula as it respects all men, elect and non-elect. Against Nicole, the reality is the inapplicability of the attempt to reduce all the quotations cited by Nicole down to these minimalist solutions.

In response to Calvin and his statements regarding Isa 53:12, Nicole writes: “…we reply that these quotations are indeed remarkable, since a good opportunity to assert definite atonement is here obviously by-passed. What is stated, however, is not different from the passages noted… [already]… and the same kind of response would apply.”15 Unfortunately for Nicole, Calvin does not resort to an “all sorts of men” argument when he comments on Isa 53:12. Typically, Nicole resorts to Calvin on 2 Tim 2:4, where Calvin does invoke the “all sorts of men” argument, and 3 other instances where Calvin limits all to all the elect.16 However, in the 3 counter examples, the context is the election by God of certain individuals.

At this point, Nicole presents a list of counter arguments which, in his estimation, establish the case against unlimited redemption in Calvin’s theology. Arguments 1 and 2 are cognates. Essentially, Nicole argues that given Calvin’s strong sense of the “divine purpose does appear to imply this specific reference of the atonement, and repeatedly Calvin asserts that God’s purpose of election is ultimate.” He then states: “To assume a hypothetical redemptive purpose more inclusive than the election of grace is doing precisely what he precludes. It is difficult to assume that Calvin would open himself to such self-contradiction.”17 But once again, Nicole operates under a false conception. There is no contradiction if one accepts Calvin at face value. Calvin is operating from the traditional formula that Christ meaningfully and intentionally suffered and died for all, sufficiently, yet he also suffered and died meaningfully and intentionally only for the elect, efficiently. There is here a dual intentionality. It is because Nicole is working from post-Calvin conceptual filters that he cannot see the obvious. It is not that the work of Christ is absolutely or unqualifiedly universal, but that election is absolutely and unqualifiedly particularistic. For Calvin, elements of universality and particularism subsist side by side in the person and work of Christ.

Nicole’s third argument is that for Calvin, faith and repentance have been merited by Christ. Again this is true, but in no way militates against unlimited redemption in Calvin’s thinking. When the decree to save meets the atonement, efficacious salvation is secured. In terms of the will revealed, however, the work of Christ was conditionally presented to the world. A man’s actual redemption is conditioned by the instrumental means of faith, which is demanded of all men, but granted to the elect. The bulk of Nicole’s argument relies on certain assumptions. If, however, Calvin did not share these assumptions, then these counters by Nicole have no weight.18

The fourth argument is that Calvin conjoins the benefit of the atonement, which come only to the elect, with references to the intent of the atonement. Yet again, this is perfectly compatible with the traditional sufficiency-efficiency model. The key is that the traditional model was rejected later by the Protestant Scholastics. There is a strong case that Amyraut sought to restore it and its biblical implications.

Argument five is the claim that Calvin conjoins the priestly work of Christ with the substitutionary death. Nicole cites Calvin on Isa 53:12 as saying: “that the atonement might be powerful He performed the office of an advocate, and interceded for all who entered this sacrifice by faith.”And from his Sermons on Isa 53:12, he cites Calvin as saying: “Whenever the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is preached to us, we must at the same time add the prayer that he made.”19

Nicole adds:

“…if the oblation and intercession are recognised to be co-extensive, they will either be both universal or both particular. The clear-cut particularity of the intercession becomes therefore a telling argument for the equal particularity of the atonement.”20

A few responses can be made to this. Strikingly, Nicole does not actually cite an instance of Calvin invoking this argument.21 That alone is telling. Also, from the first citation, it is clear that Calvin means those who by faith have appropriated the benefits of the sacrifice, for these Christ intercedes. Nicole’s claim, I would argue, operates within a post-Calvin thought world. It was the Protestant Scholastics who assumed a one-to-one correspondence between the atonement, redemption and intercession of Christ. Thus the argument works backwards. If Christ only intercedes for the elect, and if the intercession and atonement are co-extensive, then he only atoned for the elect. The problem here is that the alleged correspondence is always assumed, and rhetorically, at that by Owen, et al, never exegetically proven. And again no problem here. In terms of the efficacy of the atonement, where atonement and election meet, there is an efficacious correspondence between expiation and intercession. Additionally, if Muller is correct, and I think he is, that for Calvin the expiation is unlimited (as opposed to a limited redemption), then it is not correct to assume that for Calvin, the oblation and intercession of Christ have an exact one-to-one correspondence as Nicole tries to argue here.22

The sixth argument:

Calvin deals with texts which are usually associated with a universal saving intent in a way which shows that he was mindful at that very moment of the particular elective purpose of God. This is explicitly brought to the fore in the commentaries and sermons on Eze 18:32, Jn 3:16, 2 Pet 3:9. In the commentaries and sermons on 1 Tim 2:4 and Tit 2:13 the word “all” is interpreted to refer to “all kinds or classes of men.” In relation to Jn 1:29 and 1 Jn 2:2 the word “world” is viewed as intending to transcend a nationalistic Jewish particularism… Now we have yet to meet an upholder of universal atonement who would favour such an interpretation. In fact, we have never met one who would hesitate to use all these texts in support of his/her view. Surely if Calvin held to universal grace, he would not find it suitable, let alone necessary to provide such explanations for these passages.”23

Nicole says more similar to this, but this is enough. This is an odd argument. In terms of the first set of verses, Calvin does take the universal reading, and so the force of Nicole’s argument is immediately undercut. Thus, it is not difficult to turn Nicole’s argument on its head. For example, why would Calvin imagine that God loved so the whole world, that he sent his Son into this world to save all men, and yet somehow also imagine that on the cross, Christ died only for the elect? That is rather incongruous. Or conversely, it would also seem odd that had Calvin held to a limited atonement in the fashion of Owen and others, why he never attempted to limit these three verses to the elect, as did, almost uniformly, the later Protestant Scholastics. In terms of the second set, he follows the traditional Medieval reading, as set out by Augustine. For the last set, specifically 1 Jn 2:2, Calvin is concerned with the idea that all men will actually be saved.24 The problem is that here Nicole has invoked a category fallacy. He has made a comparison between apples and oranges. When Calvin addresses the will of God in regard to predestination in the context of any attempt to deny absolute predestination, Calvin is more likely to make qualifications (as he does with regard to 1 Tim 2:4). However, when it comes the atonement simply considered, he rarely makes any like qualifying comments (e.g., 1 Jn 2:2 which seems to be the only exception). I would argue, therefore, that to argue from Calvin’s qualification of “all” in 2 Timothy 2:4 that this regulates his position on the extent of the atonement is unsound.

Lastly, there is little ground for arguing that with regard to Calvin on Jn 1:29, he meant merely the world, generally and as a mere class as opposed to the Jews. That is to read into Calvin what is not there. Calvin:

Who taketh away the sin of the world. He uses the word sin in the singular number, for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said, that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ. And when he says, the sin OF THE WORLD, he extends this favor indiscriminately to the whole human race; that the Jews might not think that he had been sent to them alone. But hence we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation; and that as all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to him.25

While it is true that his intent to show that Christ was for all men, against Jewish claims to exclusivity, Calvin clearly states that this favor is indiscriminately extended to the whole human race. There is no textual or contextual evidence that by the phrase ‘the whole human race,’ Calvin meant something like the elect, or all kinds of (elect) people.26 The reference is to the whole world, as condemned, is delimited by his joining statement that: ‘all men without exception are guilty.’ He is not merely contrasting “the world” against the Jews, but including the Jews in the world, in our common condemnation, and its this condemned world’s sins that Jesus bears.27

The seventh argument is that those ‘embarrassing’ Calvin statements pertain to Calvin’s doctrine of the indiscriminate call of the gospel, e.g., 2 Pet 3:9. Nicole misses the point that for Calvin the person and the work is made for all, and on account of this both person and work are offered to all.

Argument eight is perplexing. It seems to amount to the claim that because Scripture itself limited the work of Christ to the elect, Calvin held only to limited redemption: “There are in Scripture as in Calvin passages where the particular intent of Christ’s death is stressed… Calvin’s commentaries on these passages, as well as those on Jn 11:52 and Heb 2:9 reflect this particularity.”28 True enough, but this does not prove that Calvin did not also, equally, espouse a certain unlimitedness of the atonement of Christ, which, when Calvin is read at the face value, is exactly the case.

Argument nine refers to Heshusius. As I intend to come back to this I will pass over it here.

Argument ten consists of the reality that Calvin uses words like propitiation, reconciliation, redemption which theologians–he does not state who and within what time-frame–“connote an accomplishment that actually transforms the relationship between God and the sinner.”29 This argument holds, if one accepts the emphatic commercialistic language in regard to the atonement that was stressed later by the Protestant Scholastics. Nicole adds: “What kind of propitiation would this be, if God continued to look upon the sinner as a child of wrath?”30

This argument is dealt out under the guise of an absolute unconditionality. All hold that the propitiatory work of Christ is conditioned by faith in some sense. No one is declared righteous before and apart from faith. For Calvin, and all the Reformed, faith is gifted to the elect, yet it is nonetheless required by all, and so demanded. Calvin held that the work of Christ is made and offered to all upon this condition of faith. It can only become effectual to them by faith. This offering and making is an expression of the will of God revealed. This does not imply free will, for even as faith is the sine qua non of salvation, God rightly demands it of all of us. Thus there can be an atonement for all, yet which does not automatically transforms the sinner.

Argument eleven asserts that Calvin held that the substitution of Christ was of a penal nature. Nicole then states that if this being so, and if the atonement is unlimited, then who could be condemned at the last day. Nicole adds: It is difficult to imagine that Calvin failed to perceive the necessary link between substitution and definite atonement.”31 The most immediate problem here is that once again, Nicole does not actually cite an instance of Calvin, himself, using or invoking this argument, which is again telling. Therefore, Nicole’s inferences are suppositional at best. This point is further underscored by the fact that there is good evidence that within the historic Reformed theology there have been at least two theological models of penal substitution.32 Next, the first assertion rests on false a assumption. It echoes Owen’s double-jeopardy argument. Nicole assumes, once again, Owen’s emphatic commericalist theological categories.33 More than that, it assumes a multi-leveled false dilemma fallacy. Either the atonement is absolutely a penal substitution, or it is not. If it is, and if he penally substituted for all men, then all men must be saved, else we are committed to the problem of double-jeopardy.34 However, contrary to Nicole, it is not an either/or but both/and. For the elect, Christ absolutely substituted for them. For the non-elect, he only made a conditional substitution as respecting the value of the atonement–the infinite dignity of Christ for an infinite demerit of sin, and so forth–which is made and offered to all men, conditionally. This is exactly the point of the Medieval formula: Christ died for all, sufficiently, but for the elect, efficiently.

Argument twelve claims that given Calvin’s strong Trinitarianism, in which there is ineffable unity between the persons of the Trinity in the work of Redemption, Calvin could not have held to unlimited redemption.35 This again is to read Calvin through the theological grid of post-Calvin Calvinism, that is, through the lens of Federalism and the anti-Amyraut polemic. The claim that it is inconceivable that Christ, as God-man, the world’s mediator, could have come into the world in order to save men whom he knew the Father had reprobated assumes an imposed framework not found in Calvin.

The problem here is that this misreads Calvin’s secret-revealed will dualism. Christ, as God-man, as the mediator of the world, when enacting the secret will not only reaches out to the elect, but lays hold of them effectively as well. However, Christ, as God-man, as the mediator to the world, when enacting the revealed will of God, only reaches out to all men. At every point the three persons of the Trinity work in perfect harmony.36 For this reason Calvin on Mt 23:37 says that it was Christ as the God-man weeping over Jerusalem. And conversely, it is because of this sort of argument from Nicole, that Beza and the Protestant Scholastics held that it was only Christ as a mere man weeping over the city. Lastly (as a counter-factual to Nicole’s claim), Davenant, Amyraut, Baxter, and Boston all imagined that in their constructions of the sufficiency-efficiency formula the whole Trinity was harmoniously involved in the work of Christ.

Argument thirteen asserts that it is unlikely that the entire Reformed movement could have so quickly shifted from unlimited redemption to limited redemption. He notes that Beza could not have single-handedly changed the entire thrust of Reformed theology.37 This argument suffers from being too simplistic to have merit. No one really suggests that Beza “single-handedly”38 changed the entire direction of Reformed theology at this point. Nicole’s argument negates the impact of two key ideas, Federalism, and Beza’s supralapsarianism. Even the very inculcation of ordered decretalism whether in the form of supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism had a profound impact upon Reformed thinking. These respective forms of ordered decretalism were seen as exhaustively capturing and regulating all of Gods redemptive dealings, in much the same way the Covenant of Redemption later worked for Durham and others. Further, there were multiple streams of thought throughout this time. Prior to Dort there was some significant diversity, which seems to have changed post-Dort, where greater uniformity of thought was achieved. And there were Reformed theologians who did take the more traditional approach to Christ’s death. Further, Nicole ignores the impact of other men such as Amandus Polanus–who was pivotal in the turn-of-the-century Dutch Reformed theological development. Beza had influenced men like Perkins, then Twisse decades later, and others like Gomarus. Furthermore, the impact of confessionalism and religious conformity must be a factor. This was supremely important in Scottish history, in the Swiss Reformed churches, and in the Netherlands’s churches where Dort held a strong grip. One last thought, Nicole ignores the greater degree of internationality between the Reformed ‘worlds,’ and the popularity of certain theologians such as Turretin and Owen in some circles.

To briefly wrap up Nicole’s arguments, the best way to expose the problematic argumentation from Nicole is to note, by way of example, his claim that all for Calvin always signified all kinds or classes of men.39 There is a ready counter-example to this from Calvin in his comments on 2 Pet 3:9, where Calvin says all is all, elect and non-elect. Calvin’s own words notwithstanding, we also have his comments from Isaiah where he says to the effect that ‘sometimes all means all.’ Calvin’s all kinds statement cannot be taken absolutely. And so, Nicole commits two key fallacies. He isolates Calvin from his previous exegetical and theological tradition, and then he retrojects a later tradition on to Calvin. Yet he also isolates Calvin’s own remarks artificially grouping them with others of seemingly like kind. The comments are disconnected from their contexts. For example, nowhere does Calvin on 2 Tim 2:1-6 ever move in his logic such that “all” becomes “all kinds” which then in its turn is transmuted to mean “some of all kinds.”40 What is actually the case there is that Calvin is stressing that Paul’s prime intent is not to focus on individuals, but kinds of individuals. Nowhere does Calvin then move to “some of all kinds” of individuals. However, it is that very move that is present in nearly all Calvinistic exegesis of 1 Tim 2:1-6. Nor is it right to insist that Calvin’s emphasis on the universal gospel offer exhausts the meaning of Calvin’s other references regarding the work of Christ ‘in and of itself.’ To do so is more of that artificial grouping and displacement of Calvin’s ideas. Most of Nicole’s arguments seem to be theological inferences based on a framework not directly derived from Calvin himself, but which are foreign to his theological system.

_______________________

1Roger Nicole, “John Calvin’s View on the Extent of the Atonement,” in An Elaboration of the Theology of John Calvin, ed., Richard C. Gamble, (New York: Garland Publishing, 1992), vol 8., pp., 119-147. This essay was also published earlier in the Westminster Theological Journal:  Nicole, R. “Calvin’s View of the Extent of the Atonement” Westminster Theological Journal 47 (1985) : 197-225. All references here refer to the 1992 publication.

2Ibid., p., 136.

3Ibid.

4Allan Clifford, Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790: An Evaluation. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp., 157-8. There orthodox have a problem here. One cannot simply create a semantic range and then theologise from that newly created range. To borrow from the style of reasoning exhibited by Long (see below), there is no other case in the Pauline corpus, or in the NT corpus that I can see where apollumi does not mean complete loss or ruin “unless this be the sole instance.” If Long wants to use this method of argument, then he is bound to use it consistently, or else be seen to be engaging in special pleading. It seems sounder to accept the force of the word as it is used elsewhere in the NT. Indeed, and then, in this way, if this verse is juxtaposed to Jn 10:28 with Rom 14:15, the theological schema of atonement’s sufficiency and efficiency provides a perfect explanatory tool for dealing with the paradox presented by just such a juxtapositioning.

5Nicole, p., 137.

6Ibid., pp., 137-8.

7Calvin, Commentaries, Jn 1:29.

8Calvin, Commentaries, Col 1:14.

9Cited from Nicole, p., 138.

10Ibid., p., 139.

11Ibid

12Calvin, Commentaries, Isa., 53:12.

13Cited by Nicole, p,. 216, c.f., Institutes, 2.16.2. Compare this with Charles Hodge’s comments: “Christ fulfilled the conditions of the covenant under which all men were placed. He rendered the obedience required of all, and suffered the penalty which all had incurred; and therefore his work is equally suited to all,” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1981), vol 2, p., 545.

14Ibid., p., 140.

15Ibid., p., 141.

16Ibid., pp., 141-142; c.f., Calvin on Jn 6:45, 12:32, and 17:19.

17Ibid., p., 142.

18That is, most of these arguments only “work” in a post-Owenic-Turretin theological context.

19Cited by Nicole, p., 143, Calvin Comm., on Isa 53:12.

20Nicole, p., 143-4. Actually, there nothing in what Calvin says that logically necessitates Nicole’s argument. It is not as if he had said, when the passion of Christ is preached to us, we must add the prayer he made for us alone. Nicole is committing a logical fallacy here of assuming a universal negative from a bare positive.

21It is true that for Calvin, the expiation and intercession are inseparable, such that the expiation grounds the intercession making the latter possible, but that is not evidence that Calvin reversed the logic and thought that a limited intercession thereby proved a limited expiation (atonement); i.e., Christ died for the elect alone.

22To be noted, it is not my desire to pit Muller against Nicole, but I cannot help but see how Muller’s claim must negatively impact Nicole’s argument here. If there is some qualification from Muller which I have not yet seen, then so be it and this part of my argument will readily be retracted.

23Nicole., p., 144.

24Calvin follows Augustine’s exegesis on this verse.

25Calvin on Jn 1:29, [italics and small caps., Calvin’s]. Note how in the last sentence Calvin connects the “whole world” under condemnation with “all men without exception are guilty.” There seems to be a great confusion here thanks to Lightfoot, who proposed that the Apostle John contrasts kosmos (i.e., the Gentiles, allegedly) with the Jews, when however, the Apostle more than likely contrasts kosmos (apostate humanity, Jews included) with God. Then comes the unproven assumption that Calvin uses kosmos as Lightfoot suggested.

26Interestingly, we do not apply this strange logic to any of the other instances where Calvin uses the phrase ‘the whole human race,’ in his commentary on this gospel (i.e.: 1:11, 16, 51; 2:24; 3:3, 13; 5:28, 11:25, 33; 14:30; 17:9), or for example, when Calvin says that the whole human race is bound in sin and condemned by God (e.g., Institutes, 3.17.1, and 4.1.17).

27The alternative reading is incongruent. It would amount to Calvin suggesting that Christ bore the sins of the elect, because all men without exception are guilty and need to be reconciled to God. This reading wrenches the logical structure of Calvin’s thought. Rainbow’s suggestion that whole world here for Calvin means the elect or the church is hardly feasible (Rainbow, pp., 153-8). Calvin’s thought his clear: the Jews, along with the whole world, are bound in the same condemnation. The idea that he meant the Jews, along with the church or elect, are bound in the same condemnation lacks plausibility.

28Nicole, pp., 144-145.

29Ibid., p., 145.

30Ibid. See also the contrasting and balancing statements from Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol., 2, pp., 471, 472, 555, and 557-8. Here Hodge posits that the efficacy of the atonement may be suspended (and thereby delayed) upon conditions in that the benefits of the atonement are not ipso facto secured for the recipient. Further, he posits that the elect are still children of wrath, even as the rest are, when they come into this world.

31Ibid., p., 146. Against the Owenic payment view of penal substitution, Dabney boldly says that ‘Christ paid the “penal debit of the world,” R.L. Dabney, Christ Our Penal Substitute (Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1898), p., 24.

32E.g., Dabney, Lectures, p., 521 and 527-8; and Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol 2, pp., 438 and context.

33Even Carl Trueman, a vigorous defender of Owen, concedes that Owen’s double-jeopardy argument relies “on a crudely commercial theory of the atonement,…” Carl Trueman, The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology, (Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1998), pp., 140, ftn., 115. Owen’s doctrine of atonement is better characterised as of debt-payment rather than a proper penal substitution. See the excellent analysis of Owen’s Death of Death by Neil A. Chambers, “A Critical Analysis of John Owen’s Argument for Limited Atonement in the Death of Death of Christ” (Th.M. thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1998).

34Against the double-jeopardy argument, see Dabney, Lectures, p., 521, and Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol 2., pp., 442-4 and context. In terms of this model, all appeals to the danger of double jeopardy have no place, whatsoever, with respect to Christ’s penal satisfaction for all men or exegesis of the problematic texts such as 1 Jn 2:2.

35Nicole, p., 146.

36Thus Calvin’s understanding of the munus triplex is still fully operative in his conception of the person and work of Christ as outlined in this paper. C.f., K.D., Kennedy, Union with Christ and the Extent of the Atonement in Calvin, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2002).

37Nicole, p., 146.

38Ibid., 146.

39As Calvin himself apparently states in his comments on 1 Tim 2:5.

40Indeed, there is no need to engage in such efforts to transmute “all kinds” into “some of all kinds” for Calvin, himself, states that the divine will under consideration is the revealed will and from that, the gospel goes forth to all equally and without exception. Such transmutation of “all” would have only been necessary if the will pertained to God’s secret will. Lastly, logically, the phrase “all kinds” is can be taken as equivalent to “all” (universally). There is no need to imagine that “all kinds” can only be taken as equivalent to “some of all kinds.” The phrase “all kinds of men” is quite compatible, as to its distribution, with the phrase “all men” (universally).

Source:  A Brief History of Deviant Calvinism.      [Paper may be obtained upon request.]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    July 24, 2009 8:26 am

    I have extracted the section of my paper “A Brief History of Deviant Calvinism” in which I reply to Roger Nicole. I have edited it a little.

    Since writing that paper, we have discovered a lot more material from Calvin and from his contemporaries which means that the documentary and theological rebuttal to Nicole could be significantly ‘beefed up’ so as to conclusively refute Nicole’s theological assumptions regarding what the Reformers should have taught, as well as categorically refuting his premises, claims and conclusions over all.

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