Unlimited Propitiation, Limited Redemption (Guest Post)

Unlimited Propitiation, Limited Redemption (Guest Post)

Author and Theologian, James Quiggle has brought us another excellent post. This time on Propitiation and Redemption

 

God sent Christ to the cross to propitiate (fully satisfy) God for the judicial debt due the crime of man’s sins, 1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25. Propitiation: the satisfaction Christ made to God for sin by dying on the cross. Christ’s propitiation fully satisfied God’s holiness and justice for the crime of sin. Christ’s propitiation was of infinite merit, because his Person is of infinite worth, thereby being sufficient for all the sins of the all the world.

God himself specifically applies the infinite merit of Christ’s propitiation according to his decree of election, Ephesians 1:4, through his gift of grace-faith-salvation, Ephesians 2:8. Election: The choice of a sovereign God, 1) to give the gift of grace-faith-salvation to effect the salvation of some sinners, and 2) to take no action, positive or negative, to either effect or deny salvation to other sinners. The decree of election includes all means necessary to effectuate salvation in those elected.

The sum of these things is the unlimited merit of Christ’s propitiation, and the limited redemption that merit is used to accomplish. Put in terms of an ongoing controversy, Christ did not die only for the elect, he died to propitiate God for all sins. Not to redeem all sinners, but to propitiate God for all sins. In familiar terms this is known as Unlimited Atonement and Limited Redemption.

The unlimited merit of Christ’s propitiation is not universal salvation. That misguided belief confuses propitiation with redemption. Propitiation is God acting toward God to satisfy God for the crime of sin. Redemption is God acting toward man to effect the forgiveness of a person’s judicial debt for his or her sins.

Some Reformed theologians, from the time of the Synod of Dort (1619) have taken a shortcut through doctrine to say since the merit of the propitiation is applied only to the elect, then Christ died only for the elect. (The technical term is a metonymy (a substitution) of the effect for the cause.) But that shortcut undermines the truthfulness of the gospel call to every sinner (discussed below), and denies the clear statement of 1 John 2:2, not for our sins only but also for all the world. The careless distort doctrine and thereby create error.

The merit of propitiation (the older term is atonement) must be applied to effect redemption. Every Old Testament example of forgiveness of sin through sacrifice teaches the merit of the shed blood, the atonement, must be applied by faith to effect forgiveness of sins to accomplish redemption.

The redemption Christ’s propitiation accomplishes is limited and particular, because applied according to a specific purpose, through a specific means, to specific individuals. That specific purpose is God’s choice to save some not others: the decree of election, Ephesians 1:4. That specific means is God’s gift of grace-faith-salvation, Ephesians 2:8, given only to the elect. The specific individuals are those whom God has chosen to give his gift of grace-faith-salvation according to his decree of election.

God’s decree of election does not prevent any from coming and believing; thus the legitimacy of a gospel call to all sinners. In the 48 uses of the Greek words for choice, none of those uses ever says anything negative about the ones not chosen. Those words are eklégō (Strong’s 1586); eklektós (Strong’s 1588); eklektós (Strong’s 1589). Do the word study, see for yourself.

The gospel call is directed toward “whoever desires,” Revelation 22:17; whoever believes on him, John 3:16; Romans 10:11; 1 John 5:1; whoever calls on the name of the Lord, Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13. If, as some propose, Christ died only for the elect, then God is a liar when he states in the gospel that “whoever desires, whoever believes, whoever calls” on the name of the Lord will be saved.

That offer to “whoever” is why propitiation is not redemption, and why election does not prevent any from coming and believing. The infinite merit of Christ’s propitiation is available for any who “desire, believe, call upon” to be saved. The decree of election takes no action, positive or negative, to either effect or deny salvation to other sinners. The call to believe is a genuine offer to all, the moral responsibility to believe is genuine requirement for all, salvation is genuinely available to any “whoever” who might “desire, believe, call upon” the Lord to be saved.

Why, then, are only the elect saved? Because the unsaved sinner is unable to overcome his or her desire to remain a sinner. The evil attribute sin in human nature influences every other attribute with the inclination to sin, and in that sense sin can be said to dominate the will. The sinner freely chooses sinning because his will is of itself always inclined to choose sinning, and as being rebellious and disobedient toward God never desires to change its inclination to choose sinning to rebel against God, disobey his commandments, and seek a path in life apart from God.

Thus the necessity of God’s gift of grace-faith-salvation. The propitiation (atonement) is sufficient for all, but is efficient to redeem only the elect, because only the elect receive God’s gift of grace-faith-salvation. The sinner is unable to initiate saving faith because his will is of itself always inclined to choose sinning, and as being rebellious and disobedient toward God never desires to change its inclination to choose sinning.

The problem some in Reformed theology have is basic ignorance of the doctrines they profess to believe. Thus the unbiblical statement, Christ died only for the elect. No, Christ died for the purpose of fully satisfying—propitiating—God’s holiness and justice for the crime of sin. That is why the propitiation was, “not for our sins only, but also for all the world,” 1 John 2:2. And having been satisfied for all sins, God could act in justice and holiness to genuinely offer salvation to all, and act according to his sovereign will to apply that merit in truthfulness, justice, and holiness to those whom he has chosen to be his legacy out of the world (Ephesians 1:11).

None are prevented from “desiring, believing, coming,” because the gospel call is legitimately made to all. But the fact of sin is that only those whom God has given his gift will desire, believe, and come.

Therefore do not confuse atonement (propitiation) with redemption. The atonement (Christ’s propitiation) was directed toward God only, in order to satisfy God’s justice and holiness for the judicial debt of the crime of sin. Redemption is directed toward man by God through election, Eph 1:4, to redeem sinners through the applied merit of Christ’s propitiation, via the gift of grace-faith-salvation, Eph 2:8.

The definitive statement on biblical salvation was accomplished by the Synod of Dort, 1618–1619. Here are the portions applicable to this discussion, from the Canons of the Synod of Dort.

SECOND HEAD OF DOCTRINE, Of the Death of Christ and the Redemption of Men Thereby, Article 3, “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.” In familiar terms Unlimited Atonement/Propitiation.

FIRST HEAD OF DOCTRINE, Of Divine Predestination, Article 6, “That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree, for ‘known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world’ (Acts 15:18). ‘Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will’ (Eph. 1:11). According to which decree, He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.”

Article 7, “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ.”

SECOND HEAD OF DOCTRINE, Of the Death of Christ and the Redemption of Men Thereby, Article 8, “For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation”

Or, as the summary states: “While the death of Christ is abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world, its saving efficacy is limited to the elect.” Unlimited Propitiation, Limited Redemption.”

Christ died on the cross to propitiate God for all sin, so God could act in justice, holiness and righteousness to save sinners. Salvation: The application of Christ’s infinite merit to overcome the demerit of sin and save a soul, specifically applied through God’s gift of grace-faith-salvation, according to God’s sovereign decree of election, then personally applied by each sinner through saving faith in Christ, in response to receiving God’s gift of grace-faith-salvation.

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