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R.L. Dabney on the Removal of Legal Obstacles

December 9, 2008

Dabney:

1) Scriptures Ascribe to
God Pity Towards
Lost.

The great advantage of this view is, that it enables us to receive, in their obvious sense, those precious declarations of Scripture, which declare the pity 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 perfections. 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. Ixxxi: 13; Ezek. xviii: 32 ; Luke xix: 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.” Thus argues the Arminian: “Since God is sovereign and omnipotent, if He has a propension, He indulges it, of course, in volition and action. Therefore, as He declares He had a propension of pity towards contumacious Israel, I conclude that He also had a volition to redeem them, and that He did whatever omnipotence could do, against the obstinate contingency of their wills. Here then, I find the bulwark of my doctrine, that even omnipotence cannot certainly determine a free will.” And thus argues the ultra-Calvinist: ” Since God is sovereign and omnipotent, if He has any propension. He indulges it, of course, in volition and action. But if He had willed to convert reprobate Israel, He would infallibly have succeeded. Therefore He never had any propension of pity at all towards them.” And so this reasoner sets himself to explain away, by unscrupulous exegesis, the most precious revelations of God’s nature! Should not this fact, that two opposite conclusions are thus drawn from the same premises, have suggested error in the premises? And the error of both extremists is just here. It is not true that if God has an active principle looking towards a given object, He will always express it in volition and action. This, as I have shown, is no more true of God, than of a righteous and wise man. And as the good man, who was touched with a case of destitution, and yet determined that it was his duty not to use the money he had in giving alms, might consistently express what he truly felt of pity, by a kind word; so God consistently reveals the principle of compassion as to those whom, for wise reasons. He is determined not to save. We know that God’s omnipotence surely accomplishes every purpose of His grace. Hence, we know that He did not purposely design Christ’s sacrifice to effect the redemption of any others than the elect. But we hold it perfectly consistent with this truth, that the expiation of Christ for sin–expiation of infinite value and universal fitness–should be held forth to the whole world, elect and non-elect, as a manifestation of the benevolence of God’s nature. God here exhibits a provision, which is so related to the sin of the race, that by it, all those obstacles to every sinner’s return to his love, which his guilt and the law presents, are ready to be taken out of the way. But in every sinner, another class of obstacles exists; those, namely, arising out of the sinner’s own depraved will. As to the elect, God takes these obstacles also out of the way, by His omnipotent calling, in pursuance of the covenant of redemption made with, and fulfilled for them by, their Mediator. As to the non-elect, God has judged it best not to take this class of obstacles out of the way ; the men therefore go on to indulge their own will in neglecting or rejecting Christ. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 532-533.

2) Common Sufficient Grace Refuted.

In opposition to the assertion of a common sufficient grace, we remark, 1st. That there is no sufficient evidence of it in Scripture. The passages quoted above do, indeed, prove that God has done for all men under the gospel all that is needed to effect their salvation, if their own wills are not depraved. But they only express the fact that God’s general benevolence would save all to whom the gospel comes, if they would repent; and that the obstacles to that salvation are now only in the sinners. But whether it is God’s secret purpose to overcome that internal obstacle, in their own perverse wills, these texts do not say, It will be found, on examination, that they all refer merely to the external call, which we have proved, comes short of the effectual call: or that they are addressed to persons who, though shortcoming, or even backsliding, are regarded as God’s children already. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 583.

[Note: The view which Dabney calls ‘advantageous’ is his own moderate view on the expiation in relation to the indiscriminate proposals of mercy, which he juxtaposes against the ‘extremist’ position of Beza, et al, on the one hand, and the ultra-Arminians on the other. It is Beza’s exegesis of these critical verses to which Dabney refers when he speaks of their ‘wresting the Scriptures.’  I should note, too, while my focus here is Dabney’s comments on the removal of legal obstacles, I could not help underlining some of his other pointed and valuable comments.]

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