Archive for February, 2012


Abundant Redemption–the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death

Recently, a blogger on another page asked me what I mean when I say “the work of Christ is sufficient for all” and why I feel the need to affirm such a doctrine since the design of his death was to redeem only the elect. He felt such a statement must arise from an attempt “to placate Arminians or otherwise soften unpopular doctrine.” Anyone who knows me understands I never go out of my way to placate anyone or soften the harsh edge of any biblical teaching. Truth is truth! If I believe it is truth, I intend to proclaim it. The following is the answer I gave him in an effort to clarify my position on the issue.

1. As regards the purpose and design of Christ’s redeeming work, that purpose was definite and particular. He did not die in a well-meaning but futile and ineffectual effort to redeem all sinners. His intention was never at cross purposes with the Father’s decree.

2. Additionally, I do not believe the purpose of his death was to make all men savable in the hypothetical universalism sense, though, in reality, all could be justified by the same redeeming works if God enabled them to believe and avail themselves of the free offer of the gospel. The gospel announces that anyone who wishes may come, and the promise of the gospel is that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

3. The redeeming work of Christ is of such a nature that had he intended to save only one sinner by that work, he would have accomplished what every sinner needs to put him or her right with God. Since all sinners are of the same sinful lump and are all at heart equally destitute of spiritual merit or goodness in the presence of God, what one sinner needs is what every sinner needs. It is not as if there is a great vat of merit to be filled by the blood of Christ that contains only enough to forgive the sins of the elect and once that is exhausted there is no more. Instead, there is a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, and any sinner who wants to be clean may (note, I did not say “can”) come and be washed clean in the blood of the lamb. This is no attempt “to placate Arminians or otherwise soften unpopular truth.” It is simply a statement of the fact that if his death is sufficient for the elect, it is also sufficient for all other sinners since the nature and necessities of the elect are no different from those of any sinner.

When I proclaim the gospel, I tell my hearers “Christ died for the most guilty sinner who will believe the gospel.” When I teach believers I tell them “Jesus, according to the Father’s design, effectively secured your salvation on the cross.” When I call on sinners to repent, the issue is not whether they are elect or whether Christ died for them with a particular design, but whether they will heed the gospel call and trust God’s promise to save all who call on him. The gospel is not addressed to elect sinners; it is merely addressed to sinners. Any sinner who trusts God promise of forgiveness will be saved.

The difference between the Calvinistic position and the Amyraldian position is that the latter posits that Christ’s death was not intended to redeem any sinner in particular but merely to render all sinners savable. For this reason, it is sometimes called, “hypothetical Universalism.”* Thus, any limitation that exists in Christ’s redeeming work is in its application, not in its design.

The Calvinists position maintains the converse position. The intent and purpose of Christ’s redemptive work was the effectual redemption of his chosen people. Because of his nature and the nature of his redemptive works it was incidently sufficient for all. The reason I have never liked the mantra, “Sufficient for all but efficient for the elect” is that it seems to support the Amyraldian scheme. I would state the issue the other way around. Christ death was designed for the everlasting salvation of the elect, and in the process was sufficient for everyone. One of the reasons for acknowledging the sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work is that it removes that issue from the discussion. We agree that Christ’s work is sufficient; now we can talk about the real issue, i.e., what was God’s purpose in sending his Son? And, if he died for everyone, what did he accomplish for them?

If all things are ordained by God and there is a limitation in the application of redemption, that limitation must have been previously designed by God.

*I have never liked having my views misrepresented, nor is it my wish to misrepresent the views of others. Though I personally see little difference between what I have stated concerning the “Hypothetical Universalist’s” view and what one of our visitors has insisted is truly their position, I want to try to be fair in my attempt to state his position to his satisfaction. If I understand his position correctly, it is that in the HU view the intention of Christ’s death was two-fold. 1) It was intended to render satisfaction for every sinner, and 2) It was intended to secure the application of that satisfaction to the elect and to the elect alone. I also perceive that he wishes these views not be juxtaposed to Calvinism since they were proposed and held by men who are to be found under Calvinism’s broad tent.

The only point I was making is that what I have suggested in this post is not in agreement with this view however one may wish to state it. In my view, there is no indication in Scripture that Jesus’s death was intended to render satisfaction to God’s justice for any but those given to him by the Father before the world was created.


The Gospel Message

Accurate communication can be difficult. This is especially true since there are no perfect communicators and there are no perfect hearers/readers. There may be times when we think we have communicated an idea with crystal clarity, when we discover the person who heard or read our remarks completely missed the point we were making.

A woman who had heard me preach every Sunday morning for eight years said to me, “Just like you have always said, ‘As long as we do the best we can, God will certainly accept us.’” The truth is, I had never said anything of the kind. Either I had been a very poor communicator, she had been a very poor hearer, or perhaps it was a combination of the two.

There is no message that deserves proper communication as much as the message of the gospel. Men and women’s souls hang in the balance. It seems people are always trying to fine tune the message to make it more intelligible. In the process, they usually make it less so.

Some have suggested we should omit any call to repentance since that may give people the idea they need to amend their ways so that God will accept them. Others insist we must, in our initial gospel presentation, explain that faith will always produce a life of obedience to Christ. The reality is we do not need to fine tune the gospel at all. We simply need to proclaim it as Jesus and the apostles proclaimed it. If people misunderstand us and think we are teaching that we may go on living in sin so that grace might be more fully manifested, we are in good company. This was the charge leveled against the great apostle to the Gentiles. If, then, we are not open to the same charge whenever we preach the gospel of justification through faith alone, our message must be different from that of the great apostle himself. Dr. Lloyd-Jones wrote.

The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge [antinomianism] being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel (Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 1973,8).

We must never give sinners the idea they must bring something of merit with them when they come to Christ. Charlotte Elliott was born in the late 18th century. She became disabled in 1821 and remained so until her death in 1871. In May of 1822, Dr. Caesar Malan of Geneva, a friend of her father, came to spend some time with her family. As he conversed with Charlotte he discovered she was a stranger to Christ and the joys and comforts of the Christian faith. At first, she resented his efforts to witness the gospel to her but later asked forgiveness for the way she had treated him. She asked his counsel as to how she might find Christ. He saw that she was being held back by her own efforts to make herself better and to save herself and said to her, “Dear Charlotte, cut the cable. It will take too long to unloose it. Cut it. It is a small loss anyway. You must come to Christ just as you are.”

I was not until twelve years had passed that she wrote a poem that was first titled, “HimThat Cometh to Me I Will in No Wise Cast Out.” She penned the hymn on a day when she had been feeling especially despondent over her helplessness and apparent uselessness. She had lapsed into spiritual depression and was questioning the very reality of her faith. The night before she wrote the hymn she had been exceedingly troubled by doubts and fears. Concerning her experience on the next day Bishop H. C. G. Moule, wrote as follows,

. . . the troubles of the night came back upon her with such force that she felt they must be met and conquered in the grace of God. She gathered up in her soul the grand certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation: her Lord, his power, his promise. And taking pen and paper from the table, she deliberately set down in writing for her own comfort the formulae of her faith. So in verse she restated to herself the gospel of pardon, peace and heaven.

Today, we know her poem by a different by a different title. It reads as follows,

Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am! Thou will receive,
Will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am! thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.

I cannot imagine a better expression of the manner in which we should invite sinners to Christ. Another hymn-writer expressed the gospel in this way,

Come ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity joined with Pow’r.
He is able, he is willing, doubt no more.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him;
This he gives you;
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

Joseph Hart 1759

Both these hymns express the same thought. Sinners do not have to do anything to make themselves better or prepare themselves to come to Christ. You do not need to change, just come.

But, if you are thinking, you will ask, what about repentance? Don’t sinners have to turn from sin when we come to Christ? I would unequivocally answer yes! So, is that not a contradiction? Not at all. The call to repentance is not a call to amend our ways. It a call to understand that we cannot ameliorate our ways. It is a call to bring our sins to Jesus that he might change us. The sinner who comes to Jesus in faith and repentance is a sinner who has come to understand his absolute helplessness to do anything about either his guilt or his pollution because of sin. Additionally, he has learned that his sins are a great burden from which he longs to be free. He has grown tired of his nagging and accusing conscience and wants more than anything to be freed from this load. It is futile to tell him to leave his sin; he has tried to mend his ways through self-reformation time after time and knows himself to be a miserable failure. Our message to sinners is “Stop trying to free yourself.” You will fail every time you try. I have never been a life-guard, but I have been told that life-guards at times must disable those they are attempting to save, because the intended victim persists in trying to save himself. Don’t wait to “Rid your soul of one dark blot,” but come to him “whose blood can cleanse each spot.” You will never be ready; you will never be fit. The good news of the gospel is that he is ready; he is worthy; he is able.

We don’t invite sinners to Jesus that he might forgive their sins and then leave them in those very sins for which he has forgiven them. We invite them to Jesus to be saved from the sins themselves. When the outward call of the gospel is accompanied by the internal and effectual call of the Father and the regenerating work of the Spirit, to slightly paraphrase John Flavel’s words, “we see not only the weapons of hostility falling from sinner’s hands, but the enmity itself falling from their hearts.” This is why the Scriptures talk about God giving repentance to sinners.

C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “. . .the gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.”

He describes his own experience of conversion as follows,

When I was under the hand of the Holy Spirit, under conviction of sin, I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden. It was not so much that I feared hell, but that I feared sin. I knew myself to be so horribly guilty that I remember feeling that if God did not punish me for sin He ought to do so. I felt that the Judge of all the earth ought to condemn such sin as mine. I sat on the judgment seat, and I condemned myself to perish; for I confessed that had I been God I could have done no other than send such a guilty creature as I was down to the lowest hell. All the while, I had upon my mind a deep concern for the honor of God’s name, and the integrity of His moral government. I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly.

Once sinners are thus convinced, we do not need to persuade them to leave their sins. Those sins will now be the great burden of their souls.