|Letter to Mike Horton:|
a "Classical Protestant"
Dear Michael Horton,
You seem to be under the impression that you can teach "the indicative declaration of what Christ has accomplished" (MR, Sept 1999,p4) without addressing the question of the extent of the atonement. But the nature of Christ's righteousness cannot be clearly taught without saying that only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ. If Christ bore the sins of every individual, but not each of them is saved, then Christ's blood cannot be taught as that which actually satisfies the demands of God's law in a "complete atonement" (p30) If the blood does not "set apart" the elect from the reprobate, then something unholy sinners do or decide is that which sets apart.
In the ambiguity resulting from your failure to agree with God and the Westminster Confession about particular atonement, the propitiatory offering (Ephesians 5:2, 25-26) will continue to be seen by many "classical evangelicals" as something offered to individual sinners, for them to accept or reject. In other words, the universal duty to believe the gospel will become a law which conditions salvation not on the cross but on the sinner. But the confession to which you subscribe rightly describes the cross as an offering made to God. God has not introduced a new less strict law by which we may be saved. God has offered to God a righteousness that entitles each elect person to all the blessings of salvation, including the effectual call and faith in the true gospel.
I would not say that definite atonement is 'the little point which the world and the devil are attacking" (p39). There is no need for Satan to attack a doctrine which is not even being taught by "Reformed" celebrities like yourself. You spend more time defending Calvin on the sacrament than you do attacking the hypothetical (useless) universal (on condition) atonement heresy.
Why is this so? I think first of the "myth of the influence". Perhaps you think that if you avoid the offense of the cross: (Gal 6:14--it saves, and it alone, and therefore all for whom Jesus died will be saved), you will be able to persuade those who condition salvation on themselves to talk more correctly about God or about election or union with Christ. But election and/or union which enables sinners to meet conditions to get in on the "alien righteousness" is NOT a biblical picture of election/union and certainly is not the gospel. It is the outside righteousness of the cross itself which is the condition which makes certain the salvation of the elect. But surely Mike Horton is not deceived by the idea that compromise will help you to influence others. Better to be confessing Christ's effectual atonement even if it leaves one outside the church catholic!
So I cannot think that it is only your alliance with Lutherans and evangelicals that keeps you silent about Jesus dying for the sheep and not the goats. Why then do you "take away with one hand what you give with the other"? Why do you preach about the "indicative done" in the context of "you" and never in terms of the Westminster Confession: "for all those whom the Father has given the Son" ?
Perhaps, I think, the problem is your sociology: perhaps you think of the church as only the regenerate or those who profess to be regenerate. Therefore sermons like" Christ Alone" by David Mcwilliams were addressed only to the elect. But no,that cannot be, you are no sectarian: you know that the covenant community includes the reprobate for whom Jesus did not die. But then again, when you accept as Christians those who confess as gospel the water baptism "where infants find salvation in Christ", then perhaps you really do see every baptized member of the covenant community as one for whom Christ died. Surely these infants would not find salvation in the water unless they had first been purchased by Christ. Surely it was the blood and not the water which satisfied the demands of the law.
But finally I do not think the problem is any ecclesial presupposition about the 'you" being regenerate.. Those who disagree about water can still confess together that only the elect were baptized into the death of Christ. Only those for whom Jesus died have a righteousness which answers the demands of God's law. Being "pastoral" (p 6) gives no preacher the right to assure all his hearers that Christ will not be a judge to them. Acts 17:31 should warn us against talking about sovereign grace without attending to the righteousness of God. Only the blood of Jesus Christ (not the preacher of the word or the church or the sacrament) has (or has not) silenced the accusations of God's law.
The confession of Gal 2:20 (Christ gave himself for me) cannot be libeled as that of a rebel seeking to be autonomous and solitary. We are not saved collectively: individually we are effectually called into the body of Christ through obeying the gospel. Obeying the gospel is not the condition of salvation, but a blessing made certain for the elect by the righteousness of Christ. It is not sure that "you" will be saved. Salvation is promised to all who believe the gospel of salvation conditioned on the blood alone. Salvation is not promised to those who have faith in their faith or their church or its water and word. If the word of the church is universal atonement, that word is a false gospel which irresponsibly encourages people in their darkness.
Mike, your proper antithesis (not by works in us) will do no good if you "flinch at this one point". If you do not confess particular atonement, then the people who hear cannot look outside themselves for the righteousness which pleases God. If Jesus Christ died for everybody but only "enabled God" to save those who meet further conditions, then people will certainly look to themselves for the difference between lost and saved. The only way you can tell people that the gospel is "outside of you" is to tell them that the gospel they must believe to be saved excludes this believing as the condition of salvation. The only condition of salvation for the elect is Christ's death for the elect. No debated language about "covenant" should be allowed to obscure this gospel truth. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, you encourage people to make faith into a work, a "little something" that makes the difference between life and death!
I am not looking for another discussion about Calvin and Luther on the extent of the atonement. I am not even looking for something "classical" enough that you can influence people to sign. I am asking you if you believe that the glory of God in the gospel means that all for whom Christ died will certainly be saved. Or is that too "rationalistic" for you? Would that perhaps take the grace of God out of the hands of those who give the sacrament and reserve it for the Father who has reserved a people for himself and given them to Christ? (Romans 11:4-6) The glory of God does not depend on human decisions, and the gospel must not become a victim of "evangelical" law which in the name of universal atonement conditions salvation on the sinner.
Maybe a token in the direction of a proper repentance would be for you to stop quoting a pagan like C S Lewis. Talk about taking away with one hand what one gives away with the other! You quote Lewis: "The Pantheist's God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you." If you really want a reformation, you would quote Lewis on how he conceives of this pursuit continuing into purgatory. In Screwtape Letters, Lewis confessed that 'the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of God's scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will...would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish, He can only woo..."
Mike, do you and C. S. Lewis have different gods or only different doctrines? Lewis not only made an idol of human ability but curtailed the demand of the law and the gospel. God will not save those whom God does not teach to trust only in the Righteousness Established for the elect at the cross. Romans 10:3 Those who are ignorant of God's righteousness seek to establish their own righteousness, and do not submit to the righteousness of God.
I remind you of the words of "Faith Reviving", in which Toplady addresses himself:
From whence this fear and unbelief?
Complete atonemnt thou hast made,
If thou hast my discharge procured,
Turn, then, my soul, unto thy rest
Copyright © 2000 by Mark McCulley. All rights reserved.