Provisional Atonement Part 2: Provision is Consistent With Foreknowledge

As we noted in our last post [Part 1] Arminians see the atonement of Jesus Christ as being provisional in nature.  Not only is the atonement provisional but it is more specifically provisional in Christ Jesus.  Only those who come to partake of Christ partake also of the atonement available through union with Him.  Since we come to be in union with Christ by faith we also come to benefit from the atoning benefits of His blood through faith (Rom. 3:25).  The atonement is one of those gracious spiritual blessings that we come to share in when we are united to Christ by faith  and is probably foundational to all of the other spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3, 7).  When we understand the atonement as provisional in Christ we can accept all the universal passages concerning Christ dying for all or making propitiation for all while avoiding full blown universalism (the belief that all will be saved).

We saw in “Part 1” that this answered John Owen’s argument concerning unbelief being atoned for by Christ’s sacrifice, and the supposed implication of universalism for the Arminian.  We noted that since atonement is provisional in Christ the unbeliever’s unbelief is atoned for only when the unbeliever turns to Christ in faith and is therefore joined to Him, thereby partaking of the provision of atonement that resides in Christ alone (Eph. 1:3, 7, 13; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 3:25; 5:1, 2; 8:1).  Furthermore, Owen’s Calvinism falls to the same objection.  If unbelief is atoned for unconditionally for the elect as Owen suggests, then the elect would be born saved.  They would be saved even in their unbelief since their unbelief was atoned for at the cross (according to Owen).  This leads to theological absurdities and is plainly contradicted by passages like Ephesians 2:1-3 which make it clear that we are all under God’s wrath (and therefore not saved) prior to being justified by faith in Jesus Christ.  As soon as it is seen that Scripture presents the atonement as provisional, all of Owen’s cherished arguments fall to the ground.

Calvinists like puritan John Owen also object to the atonement being provisional on the grounds that if the atonement only “provides” salvation then it ultimately saves no one.  This is clearly false since this provisional atonement has saved countless thousands throughout the ages.  The provisional nature of the atonement does not mean it doesn’t save nor does it mean it can’t save.  It means only that those who come to be in union with Christ by faith will alone benefit from that atonement. 

The Calvinist objection is further defeated when we realize that even for the Calvinist the atonement must be provisional in nature.  If this were not the case then anyone whom Jesus died for would be born saved [1].  Most Calvinists rightly reject this as unbiblical based on those passages which tell us that we are all born under God’s wrath (as noted above).  While the Calvinist believes that the atonement will infallibly be applied to those God unconditionally elected from eternity, it still remains that the atonement is provisional until that time when it is actually applied to the sinner.  Since Calvinists must acknowledge the provisional nature of the atonement this leaves the door wide open for the Arminian view.  The issue cannot be provision but the certainty of application.  For the Calvinist it is a certainty that God will apply the atonement to all those whom He has unconditionally pre-selected and for the Arminian it is a certainty that God will apply the atonement to all those who will trust in His blood (Rom. 3:25; 5:1, 2).  Both hold that the atonement is provisional and both hold to the certainty of application.  The only difference is that the Calvinist holds that this application is unconditional while the Arminian holds that it is conditional.

Calvinists will sometimes appeal to the hypothetical possibility that not a single person would have benefited from the atonement if it were both provisional and conditional.  But this is plainly to deny God’s foreknowledge.  Even before God created the universe He foreknew those who would trust in Christ’s blood and so be saved.  But even if no one ever put trust in Christ His sacrifice would still serve as a means of provision and the outworking of God’s amazing love and grace.  If all rejected that blood it would be truly tragic but neither God’s love nor His grace would have failed as a result.  That man rejects God’s love and grace does not make His love and grace void in any way.  To think that it would seems to be far too man centered, especially for those who hold to Calvinism and claim to disdain “man centered” theology.  It would make the significance of God’s love and grace dependent on the creature’s reception.  But God’s justice would be vindicated and His love and grace fully displayed even if every one of His creatures turned their nose up at the provision of Christ’s shed blood.  But again, such a “hypothetical” is hardly relevant since it simply has no basis in reality and God always knew what the reality of the situation would be.

Still others object that Christ would not shed His blood for those He foreknew would reject that provision.  The first problem with this suggestion is it presumes to know what God would and would not do.  This is again a surprising objection coming from those who hold to God’s sovereign freedom to do just as He pleases (and of course Arminians believe God has the freedom to do as He pleases as well).  But if God has indeed revealed that He provides atonement for those He foreknows will reject that provision, we might simply respond with the favorite Calvinist response to such objections, “Who are you O’ man to talk back to God?”  But no such response is necessary.  We can see from Scripture that God makes provisions even for those He knows will ultimately reject those provisions and this alone defeats the objection.  This truth can be seen in the parable of the banquet described by Jesus in Matt. 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24 [2].

In both of these accounts, it seems obvious that the feast was prepared for those who would refuse the invitation (specifically the Jews). The invitation went out to them and the invitation was genuine. They refused the invitation and angered the king (not specified as a king in the Luke account). Now if the feast was not intended or prepared for these Jews, then why was the king angry with them when they would not come? According to the Calvinist objection, he never intended for them to come and made no provisions for them. Look at Matt. 22:4. After the initial invitation was refused, the king sent his servants a second time saying,

“Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”

Those invited refuse again and mistreated the servants. The king is enraged. He then says,

“The wedding banquet is ready; those I invited did not deserve to come.”

Notice the reason why the guests were refused was not because the dinner was not provided for them, but because they refused the invitation, and thereby proved unworthy to attend.

If the banquet had not been provided for them, then the king had no right to be angry with them for not attending. After all, according to Calvinism, the king never intended for them to attend, and was therefore being dishonest when he told the guests that the dinner had been prepared for them.

The issue, then, is not foreknowledge, but the genuineness of the offer and the integrity of the One making the offer.

The Arminian understanding of foreknowledge is that God knows as certain all future events without necessarily causing those events. This does not mean that those events foreknown by God become artificial or meaningless because God knows them. They are still very real, and God’s interactions with us are still very real and completely genuine.

The king made the dinner even for those who (since the king represents God) he had always known would reject it (see Matt. 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29 and note that the “sons of the kingdom” are “thrown out”.  This is a reference to the Jews who reject Christ and they are called the “sons of the kingdom” because the kingdom and the feast were intended for them, and yet they will not receive the kingdom nor partake of that feast). God is just, however, and because He is just He cannot condemn men for refusing something that was never provided for them.

The argument from foreknowledge falls flat in the face of the parable of the wedding feast.  One could argue that the parable does not reference the atonement specifically but it is hard to conceive of anyone having genuine access to the feast if not for the atonement (especially considering Matt. 22:10-13, cf. Rom. 5:1, 2). Nor do I see how the feast could have even been provided without the atonement in view.  It might serve as an interesting parallel to John 6 where Christ calls himself the bread of life that gives life to the world (verse 33), while only those who eat and drink of that provision (by faith) receive the life that resides in Him (John 5:26; 6:47-58).  But even if it could be demonstrated that the atonement is not in view in these passages, the principle of genuine provision comporting with foreknowledge is still fully expressed.  So again, the objection to provisional atonement based on God’s foreknowledge loses all force.

But what of the way that Matthew closes the parable in verse 14 with the words, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”?  Does this teach Calvinism and undermine the usefulness of the parable in defense of provisional atonement?  Not at all.  It conforms perfectly to the Arminian conception of universal provisional atonement that is received and applied by faith.  The feast was prepared and provided and the invitation went out to all (starting with the Jews and then going out to the Gentiles).  All of those who are invited are therefore the “called” while those who respond are the “chosen”.  They did not respond to the call because they were already “chosen”.  Rather, they are chosen because they responded to the call (invitation).  This is the natural way to read the text.

The idea that the response was the result of being already chosen needs to be read into the text and conflicts with the fact that the feast was prepared for all those to whom the invitation went out (even those who rejected that invitation).  Therefore the designation of “chosen” is reserved for those who respond to the invitation.  In other words, election is conditional just as Arminianism has always contended.  Not only is it conditional, but it is conditioned on faith since it is by faith that we receive Christ (John 1:12) and come to be joined to Him (the elect one) by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:3, 4, 13).  This is probably the meaning behind the man not dressed in proper wedding clothes (Matt. 22:11, 12).  The man was rejected and thrown out because he did not attend the banquet under the right conditions.  He tried to make his way in on his own terms (“works” or the assumption of unconditional election as a descendent of Abraham, cf. Matt. 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29; Rom. 9:30-33; 10:3) rather than on God’s terms (“faith”, cf. Rom. 1:16, 17; 4:1-16; 10:6-13; 11:17-23).

In “Part 3” we will take a closer look at the necessary connection between provisional atonement and the integrity of the gospel message.

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[1] F. Leroy Forlines has an excellent treatment of the provisional nature of the atonement in his book, The Quest for Truth, pp. 206-207.

[2] I am indebted to puritan John Goodwin for recognizing the significance and relevance of the parable of the marriage feast in relation to the intention and provisional nature of the atonement.  He treats the subject in Redemption Redeemed, pp. 128-131, ed. by John D. Wagner.

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33 Responses

  1. Hi Ben,

    Great post, full of lots of very good points. You present the truth clearly while simultaneously dealing with some common necessitarian mistakes and criticisms. Just a few comments:

    “As soon as it is seen that Scripture presents the atonement as provisional, all of Owen’s cherished arguments fall to the ground.”

    Regarding this line, I would reword it as something like: “As soon as it is seen that Scripture presents the atonement as having both a provisional element and an applicational element, all of Owen’s cherished arguments fall to the ground.” The reason I say this is because the provision of the atonement was an actual event (the death of Christ on the cross). That provision in God’s design was provided for all. The application of the atonement, which is also God’s design, is that it be only applied to believers.

    A lot of necessatarians parrot Owen’s arguments and your observations here are very helpful and accurate. The major error these Owenists seem to make repeatedly is to conflate these two elements of the atonement failing to properly distinguish them.

    “Both hold that the atonement is provisional and both hold to the certainty of application. The only difference is that the Calvinist holds that this application is unconditional while the Arminian holds that it is conditional.”

    I would suggest just a slight addition to what you say here. Both the necessitarian and the Arminian believe that the atonement will be applied to only believers with certainty (i.e., it is **limited** in its application to only those who have faith, believers). Where the disagreement is in regards to the **scope of the provisional element of the atonement** (the necessitarian wrongly believes that it is limited in its scope and so provided only for those who eventually become believers; the Arminian correctly and based upon clear scriptural testimony believes that the provision is for all people, whether they eventually become believers or not).

    Perhaps when discussing the atonement with necessatarians we should talk about “God’s atonement plan” (then we could discuss how this plan includes both a plan to provide the atonement for all and yet apply it only to those who believe). We could then ask them if they believe that the atonement has both a provisional and applicational element.

    “Calvinists will sometimes appeal to the hypothetical possibility that not a single person would have benefited from the atonement if it were both provisional and conditional. But this is plainly to deny God’s foreknowledge.”

    They deny **both** God’s foreknowledge and ***also God’s design or purpose*** in regards to the atonement. Some necessatarians like James White like to speak of “God’s freedom in salvation” and yet God is not allowed by them to design an atonement which includes an element that is provisional to all: God can be “free in salvation” but not free to do **that**!!! It cannot be overemphasized that it is **God himself** who freely designed the atonement and purposed it. He came up with the plan for the atonement which includes a provisional element which is universal and an applicational element which is restricted only to believers.

    Personally I first really noticed this intentional design on the part of God in the serpent story in the OT. In that story, God provides a way of salvation from the bites of the poisonous serpents. A way which is intended for all of the Israelites, and yet only saves those who exercise faith. So it is intentionally designed by God to have a provisional element that includes them all but an applicational element that includes only those who have faith. Jesus then references this story and says just as that was so will be his own atonement on the cross (cf. Jn. 3:14-15). Everybody should take the time to study that serpent story and the crucifixion and see what patterns or principles the two events share in common.

    Robert

  2. Great post that fully covers the Arminian understanding of the atonement.

  3. I am thankful somebody made a point to address this important and fundamental aspect of the atonement, the provision of salvation. It is denied by some of the minor sects within Christendom but it is instrumental to our evangelical commission.

    Blessings in Christ
    http://travelah.blogspot.com/

  4. Dear Ben,

    If Christ paid for all the sins of all mankind on the cross, then would it be fair to say that the only sin that is punished is unbelief in Christ?

    Perhaps you will say that unless one is in union with Christ then all his sins will be punishable, but then what did Christ do on the cross? Did Jesus appease the wrath of God for sins and if yes was it all sins? If God has been appeased for all sins then it would mean that the only thing not accounted for is whether an individual accepts or rejects that.

    To be more specific, did Jesus pay for particular sins or just sins in general?

    I obviously struggle to see the Arminian side of this and please correct any faulty assumptions on my part.

    Grace & Peace

  5. Mitch,

    “what did Christ do on the cross?”

    He didn’t actually “wash away” any sins. Because, without His resurrection, everybody would remain in their sins.

    1 Cor 15,17: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (TNIV)

    Imagine Christ had just died on the cross and not been raised. Would any sins have been forgiven? No. So there was no actual removal of sins on the cross itself.

  6. Mitch,

    Satisfaction has been made for all sins in Christ. Only those who come to be in Christ through faith receive the benefits of that satisfaction. We share in all spiritual belessings through union with Christ (Eph. 1:3). We share in His death and we share in His life/ resurrection. His election becomes our election and we become children of God through union with the Son of God. We are joint heirs with Him.

    I believe that all sin was atoned for in Christ but the application of that atonement is conditional (conditioned on union with Christ which is conditioned on faith in Christ). So forgiveness is available in Christ and recieved by faith. So atonement is provided for all in and through Christ, but applied only to those who recieve Christ in faith. This is the traditional Arminian (and I believe Biblical) position.

    “…we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim. 4:10)

    If we want to say that all sins were atoned for unconditionally at the cross for the elect (including unbelief), then the elect would always be forgiven and never be under God’s wrath. But this is plainly contrary to Scripture, so Calvinists would do well to drop such arguments.

    Hope that helps.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. Dear Ben,

    We may on the same page or maybe not, but I look at it this way. Christ with absolute certainty atoned for all of the sins of the believers and He did this by His atoning work. The only thing left to do is apply it. Until and unless it is applied one is considered under God’s just wrath.

    I would not say that the atonement was “provisional”, I would say that the atonement was “certain”.

    Grace & Peace

  8. Mitch,

    The only thing left to do is apply it. Until and unless it is applied one is considered under God’s just wrath.

    I just don’t see how you can get around the idea that if it is there, but not yet applied, then it is provsional. Does the atonement exist in any sense prior to application? Was it not provided for the believer prior to application? Could you expound on how you see the atonement as somehow not provided prior to application?

    Thanks,
    Ben

  9. Mitch,

    I would not say that the atonement was “provisional”, I would say that the atonement was “certain”.

    I addressed this in my post here:

    Since Calvinists must acknowledge the provisional nature of the atonement this leaves the door wide open for the Arminian view. The issue cannot be provision but the certainty of application. For the Calvinist it is a certainty that God will apply the atonement to all those whom He has unconditionally pre-selected and for the Arminian it is a certainty that God will apply the atonement to all those who will trust in His blood (Rom. 3:25; 5:1). Both hold that the atonement is provisional and both hold to the certainty of application. The only difference is that the Calvinist holds that this application is unconditional while the Arminian holds that it is conditional.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  10. Dear Ben,

    To me it looks like this, Christ either atoned for all people, some people or no people.

    Obviously we can throw out the no people option, so we are left with all or some. That is why I asked if Christ had atoned for all sin of all mankind. If so then God’s wrath has been satisfied for all sin. That is why I wondered if you or the Arminian position is that the only thing not accounted for is whether the individual accepts or rejects it.

    Grace & Peace

  11. To me it looks like this, Christ either atoned for all people, some people or no people.

    Obviously we can throw out the no people option, so we are left with all or some. That is why I asked if Christ had atoned for all sin of all mankind. If so then God’s wrath has been satisfied for all sin.

    That’s merely begging the question of non-provisional atonement. God’s wrath is satisfied in Christ for all who believe, therefore a sinner who does not believe does not have the atonement’s benefit applied to him and is under God’s wrath. This accounts for the fact that those who will be saved are under condemnation until they believe, yet those for whom Christ died may yet perish if they do not believe.

    That is why I wondered if you or the Arminian position is that the only thing not accounted for is whether the individual accepts or rejects it.

    I’ve read some Arminians that accept this idea, or at least that people peoples’ condemnation is rooted in their rejection of Christ primarily. I personally don’t adopt this stance, as Christ indicates that people will be judged for individual sins (e.g. Matthew 23:14; see also Revelation 20:12). However, rejection of Him stands as an extremely grievous sin that will be punished all the more (Matthew 11:14), being exceeded only by the unforgivable sin.

  12. Dear J.C.

    I understand that God’s wrath is satisfied for all who believe, the question though is who did Christ go to the cross to atone for? Asking if Christ atoned for all, none, or some is not begging the question, surely you agree that Christ went to the cross to satisfy/propitiate the Father’s wrath. Now did Christ do this for all mankind?

    If I understand correctly then the gist of the argument is that Christ went to the cross to atone for all sins of all mankind. Then the theory would go that the only condemnation would be for not accepting. I can see the dilemma that such a view brings and it brings Owens’ view to the forefront again because then Christ did not really atone for ALL sins. As you so aptly put it-

    … rejection of Him stands as an extremely grievous sin…

    Of course it also opens one up to the why then tell anyone of the “provision” after all if they do not know it then they can not accept/reject it.

    Grace & Peace

    P.S. when you write That’s merely begging the question of a non-provisional atonement it seems odd since Ben seems to think that both Calvinist and Arminian hold to a “provisional” atonement

  13. We have made it clear that we make a distinction between the atonement being provided for all and yet being applied only to some (I have even made this distinction clear to Mitch in the past but he intentionally ignores it and just plows on with his same Owens derived arguments: it seems similar to when the skeptic’s question has been answered yet they ignore the answer and keep asking the same question, as Mitch does this with the issue of the atonement in his comments). When this distinction is intentionally ignored one can then get bogged down in Owenesque type arguments because Owen did not sufficiently make this distinction in his arguments.

    “I understand that God’s wrath is satisfied for all who believe, the question though is who did Christ go to the cross to atone for?”

    Do you mean for whom was the atonement of Christ provided (when you speak of “for”)? Then the answer is for all men.

    Or do you mean for whom is the atonement applied (when you speak of “for”)? Then the answer is for only some men, believers. So is the “for” in reference to the provisional or applicational element of the atonement?

    “Asking if Christ atoned for all, none, or some is not begging the question, surely you agree that Christ went to the cross to satisfy/propitiate the Father’s wrath.”

    When you ask **for** whom did the atonement *actually* apply (“if Christ [actually] atoned for all, none, or some”) the answer is for only those who are believers. You were accused of “begging the question” because this “all, none, or some” argument comes from Owen, and when Owen makes this argument he does not make the provision for all/application only for believers distinction, he conflates the two. It’s like the complex question fallacy: have you stopped beating your wife? (which presupposes or assumes that the person did abuse their wife in the past). In the case of the “all, none, or some” argument of Owen, it assumes that a distinction should not be made between the provision and application of the atonement, so the question is off base because it is ambiguous (if you mean “all, none or some” with respect to the provisional element of the atonement it is for ALL; If you mean with respect to the applicational element of the atonement it is for SOME).

    “Now did Christ do this for all mankind?”

    If you mean by “this” was the atonement a PROVISION for all mankind? The answer is Yes.

    If you mean by “this” was the application for all mankind? The answer is No, the atonement is actually applied only to believers.

    “If I understand correctly then the gist of the argument is that Christ went to the cross to atone for all sins of all mankind.”

    As a PROVISION **for** all people, Yes.

    “Then the theory would go that the only condemnation would be for not accepting.”

    That does not logically follow. If Jesus was provided for all but the atonement is applied only to believers. Then all those who do not have their sins covered (“covered” is what atonement literally means) cannot stand before a holy God without a covering for their various sins (whatever they may be for that individual). A person without the covering for sin provided only by the cross, would have all of their sins condemned, not just “for not accepting” the atonement.

    “I can see the dilemma that such a view brings and it brings Owens’ view to the forefront again because then Christ did not really atone for ALL sins.”

    What dilemma? If the provision/application distinction is made, I (we) have no problem dealing with both the facts relating to the provision of the atonement (that it was provided for all, sufficient for all, that God loves the World and gives His Son for that entire World, etc. etc.) and the facts relating to the application of the atonement (that it is only applied to believers and thus universalism is false, that it actually accomplishes atonement for those for whom it is applied, that for those to whom it is applied all of their sins are covered, etc.).

    Again, Owens’ view is problematic because it operates without the provision/application distinction. In not taking this distinction into consideration it leads to confusion and mistakes and misunderstandings of the different elements of the atonement.

    Robert

  14. Dear Robert,

    I see you are as cordial as ever:)

    The reasons I say “for” is because on the cross Christ atoned for sins, I take it we agree so far.

    Now did Christ atone for all sins, some sins or no sins? He satisfied the wrath of the Father and was punished for sin, whose sin?

    The problem Robert is that I do not buy into this baloney of “provisional” and or that Christ made mankind savable. To me Christ made complete atonement for all that the Father gave Him and the Spirit applies it.

    So contrary to your huffing and puffing the question is still valid and Owen has yet to be refuted.

    Grace & Peace

  15. One more thing Robert, when I ask who Christ atoned ”for” on the cross that is exactly what I mean to ask.

    On the cross Christ bore the penalty for sin and satisfied/propitiated the Father. So the question is still whose sin did Christ atone for on the cross? To try to smuggle in some meaning that does not actually atone for anything is problematic especially if we hold to what Scripture says.

    Trying to make this as simple as I can for you Robert- on the cross did Christ pay the penalty for all mankind and was the Father satisfied with the sacrifice?

    On a side note, I must admit I was a bit surprised to see you comment here, it seems that your axe is free-will. Nevertheless it is always good to get different responses.

    Grace & Peace

  16. Asking if Christ atoned for all, none, or some is not begging the question…

    Incorrect, the context in which you framed it,

    That is why I asked if Christ had atoned for all sin of all mankind. If so then God’s wrath has been satisfied for all sin.

    Assumes that if it was for all men, then God’s wrath against all men must already be satisfied, which is begging the question of your assertion that atonement is non-provisional.

    …surely you agree that Christ went to the cross to satisfy/propitiate the Father’s wrath. Now did Christ do this for all mankind?

    Yes, provisioned upon faith.

    If I understand correctly then the gist of the argument is that Christ went to the cross to atone for all sins of all mankind. Then the theory would go that the only condemnation would be for not accepting.

    Not really, since the atonement is provisioned upon faith, then it would not be applied to those who do not believe, and hence they would be condemned for all of their sins.

    because then Christ did not really atone for ALL sins. As you so aptly put it-

    … rejection of Him stands as an extremely grievous sin…

    Oh but He did die for all the sins of those who believe, it’s merely not applied unconditionally. Even the sin of rigid unbelief is forgiven when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ.

    Now did Christ atone for all sins, some sins or no sins? He satisfied the wrath of the Father and was punished for sin, whose sin?

    The question has been answered before Mitch, He did satisfy the Father for all who believe in Him, you are again begging the question.

    To me Christ made complete atonement … So contrary to your huffing and puffing the question is still valid and Owen has yet to be refuted.

    To the contrary, what it means ‘to you’ doesn’t constitute evidence for Owen’s benighted nonsense. I’ve refuted his one-dimensional ‘logic’ before with little effort. Now if the atonement’s benefit is not applied to someone until they believe, then it is plainly provisioned upon faith, for until one believes, that person’s sins are not forgiven, and God’s wrath towards him is not satisfied until he turns to Christ. So the question for you would be, if Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath for all the elect, is His wrath for them already satisfied even before they believe?

  17. Robert and Thibodaux,

    Good points. Owen’s syllogism doesn’t consider the difference between

    1) Christ’s death on the cross
    and
    2) His intercession before the Father as the risen Lord and Savior.

  18. Mitch,

    JC wrote:

    So the question for you would be, if Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath for all the elect, is His wrath for them already satisfied even before they believe?

    Exactly. And this is why I mentioned that atonement must be provisional even in Calvinism, otherwise eternal justification follows. So if God’s wrath was fully satisfied for the elect at the cross in the way that you have suggested, then why are unbelievers (or in Calvinism- the unbelieving elect) condemned and under God’s wrath until they believe? The only way to avoid eternal justification for the elect is to admit the provisional and conditional aspects of the atonement.

    Let me just point out that these arguments from Calvinists like Owen that you seem to see as sound, are purely philosophical. That is the only way to make limited atonement even begin to seem plausible is to press philosophical arguments. That is because the plain language of Scripture is that the atonement is made for all (this specific language “all”, “world”, “whole world”, “every man”, etc. is used again and again when describing the scope of the atonement in Scripture).

    The philosophical argument is answered well enough when we simply remember that the atonement is provisional in Christ Jesus and union with Christ is conditioned on faith. But more importantly the Scriptures teach us that the atonement is provisional and conditional. I offered several passages in support of this in this post and in Part 1 which deals with the Owen “dilemma” that you are convinced still stands. Let’s look at a few more:

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)

    The object of God’s love is “the world” and that love is expressed in the giving of His Son. So God gave His Son (as a necessary atonement) to the world out of love for the world (provision of atonement for the world) so that the one who believes (condition for application of provision) in Him, should not perish (since atonement has now been applied), but have eternal life.

    Now if I shared John 3:16 with any unbeliever without commentary, they would immediately see that the text is saying that God gave His Son for all (the world) while only those who believe receive the benefit of Christ’s death. This is further confirmed in verse 18,

    “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

    So verse 18 confirms the natural reading of verse 16, that the atonement is provisional for all while only believers receive the benefit of that atonement (and notice that condemnation remains, not because no provision was made, but because that provision was rejected and therefore not applied). We see the same thing in John 3:36,

    “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

    And why does God’s wrath remain? Because no provision was made? No. God’s wrath remains because the provision was rejected and not received by faith.

    Now we also need to remember that John 3:16-18, 36 follows and clarifies Jesus’ reference to the His being lifted up (crucified) illustrated by the provision of the bronze serpent in the wilderness in verses 14, 15,

    “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”

    The bronze snake was given as a provision for all of Israel to be healed by the deadly snake bites, yet only those who looked to the snake in faith received healing. The provision was for all, but application was not automatic or unconditional. It was conditioned on looking to the provision in faith. The provision was made for those who looked and for those who did not, yet only those who looked to the snake received the benefits of the provision. Jesus specifically connects this story of provision and conditional application to His own death and atonement, “…so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” We could add to these numerous other passages (esp. 1 John 2:2 and 1 Tim. 4:10) which make clear that provision is made for all while the application of that provision is limited to those who believe.

    Paul puts it well in 2 Cor. 5:18-21 (I will quote only portions of the text below)

    “All this from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them…we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.”

    So while God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, it remains for us to “be reconciled to God.” The provision of reconciliation is found in Christ while we are actually reconciled (partake of the provision of reconciliation) to God through faith in Him. And this reconciliation is tied specifically to union with the source of reconciliation, the one mediator between man and God, Jesus Christ. Paul had just made this point in verse 17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (emphasis mine). That the sphere of provision is “in Christ” and only those who come to be in Christ through faith benefit from that provision (and all spiritual blessings that reside in Him alone) is all over the Pauline epistles. It is probably the strongest theme in Paul’s theology. As he says in Romans 8:1,

    “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (emphasis mine)

    Notice that the freedom from condemnation is only for those who are “now…in Christ Jesus”. The benefits of the atonement are applied to those who are in union with Christ since only then can one share in the provision of His atonement and all the spiritual blessings that result from it,

    In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding…For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13, 14 emphasis mine)

    So provisional atonement applied conditionally through faith union with Jesus Christ is all over Scripture. It is as Biblical as you can get. So I find it rather bold and worrisome that you would make statements like, “The problem Robert is that I do not buy into this baloney of “provisional” and or that Christ made mankind savable…To try to smuggle in some meaning that does not actually atone for anything is problematic especially if we hold to what Scripture says.” No one is trying to smuggle anything into the Scriptures here. We are simply allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves and submitting to that truth.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  19. Dear J.C. & A Helmet,

    I agree that if I held to the Arminian mindset that you have postulated a way to see the atonement, since I do not hold to an Arminian mindset then this does not address the issue. So in all instances where you say I beg the question I could turn it on you and say likewise.

    Seeing as we will not agree on this, I will leave it at that.

    One more thing for A Helmet, the reason Owen doesn’t differentiate between the death of Christ on the cross and His intercession before the Father is because to Owen (and me) there is no difference. On the cross Christ paid the penalty for all that the Father gave Him and He intercedes for all that He atoned for on the cross. There is no difference in the group.

    Grace & Peace

  20. Dear Ben,

    I saw your comment after I responded to J.C. and A Helmet, but most of what I say to them is valid and can be my response to you.

    The only thing that I would like to add to my response to you would be based on what you wrote here-

    And why does God’s wrath remain? Because no provision was made? No. God’s wrath remains because the provision was rejected and not received by faith.

    Do you see the problem? If as you claim the only reason God’s wrath remains on people are because they reject it then what do you do too ones that never were given the option of accepting or rejecting it? It seems to me that since their sins have been dealt with on the cross they would be saved. That seems to be the most logical conclusion to my mind.

    Grace & Peace

  21. Mitch,

    You wrote,

    Do you see the problem? If as you claim the only reason God’s wrath remains on people are because they reject it then what do you do too ones that never were given the option of accepting or rejecting it?

    Do see how you do not deal with the Biblical evidence but reject the evidence based on speculation concerning those who may never hear? Do you see that as a wise hermeneutic? Now again it is plain that you are begging the question of your view in trying to falsify my own view. If the atonement is provisional in Christ and the reception of that provision is conditioned on faith, then it does not follow that the one who never receives that provision (by faith) would be forgiven, otherwise the provision would be unconditional, which is what I plainly deny. Do you see how that is begging the question on your part (assuming as true what is yet to be proved)?

    Now as for those who never hear the gospel, they would be condemned for the sins that they committed since they never received the benefits of the atonement (they are “condemned already”). Now the question that follows is how does God deal with those who do not hear the gospel? The Bible simply does not give us much information on that. I have some ideas, but they are really speculative based on very little Biblical evidence (I would say that God reaches out to them in grace and if they respond to that grace God will continue to respond as well until the gospel is made available to them through missionaries, or even in visions [as often happens among Muslim], so they would still be condemned for rejecting the revelation of God that they received, though they would not be condemned for rejecting the perfect revelation of God in Christ, since they never received that revelation). So again, it is not wise to dismiss the clear teaching of Scripture on the basis of a subject that the Bible is significantly silent on.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  22. And BTW Mitch, you have still not bothered to address how you or Owen avoid the problem of eternal justification in your view of unconditional and non-provisional atonement.

  23. …since I do not hold to an Arminian mindset then this does not address the issue. So in all instances where you say I beg the question I could turn it on you and say likewise.

    Not at all, begged questions are arguments based upon assuming what is trying to be proven. If Christ made atonement for the sin of someone, yet that person is still under God’s wrath until he believes, then the only tenable deduction that can be drawn from the evidence is that the atonement is provisioned upon faith. Your not holding an ‘Arminian mindset’ doesn’t negate the facts.

    If as you claim the only reason God’s wrath remains on people are because they reject it then what do you do [to] ones that never were given the option of accepting or rejecting it?

    I know the question was directed at Ben, but I affirmed before, we are accountable for all sin we commit, therefore even those ‘not given the chance’ are without excuse.

  24. Mitch,

    Of course “sacrificial death” and “high priestly intercession” are 2 different things. Just like killing an animal and the priest’s entering the holy tent are not the same actions. And that is crucial, because the bible differentiates here and Owen fails to do so.

    You’d asked:

    He satisfied the wrath of the Father and was punished for sin, whose sin?

    Not anyone’s particular sins, but “the sin of the world”. Not countable sins, but the entirety of sin, so to speak. Compare it to the OT annual sacrifice for the people. The animal that was sacrificed didn’t suffer more or less depending on how many persons belonged to the people of Israel. Neither were there sacrifices for each person but one for the whole people. That’s why John says Christ is the sacrifice for “the world” (John 1,29; 1 John 2,2), because it is corporate, for an entire group, without respecting individuals.

    To me Christ made complete atonement for all that the Father gave Him and the Spirit applies it.

    The complete forgiveness of sins didn’t actually occur “on the cross”. This happens by Christ’s intercession before the Father . Note, the intercession is the act where sins are actually erased and God’s wrath is appeased. It is the act where the “bridge” between sinful man and the holy God is built. The intercession removes the guilt before God. The intercession is the work of the risen Lord and Savior! That’s why Paul can say if Christ hadn’t resurrected, we would still be in our sins (1 Cor. 15,17). Because it is the high priestly intercessionary work that actually takes away sins.

    Whom does the resurrected Christ intercede for? For the believers. The cup of Christ’s blood doesn’t remove guilt unless it is brought before the Father in the high priestly intercessionary work of the risen Christ.

    But because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:24-26).

    So the differentiation between provision (on the cross) and the application (intercession) is biblical, and Owen completely misses this distinction.

    Christ only intercedes for those who believe.

    James White also misses this point in his article “Was anyone saved at the cross?” when he attempts to explain the intercession of Christ and its relation to His death as follows:

    Is His work of intercession another work alongside His sacrificial death? Is His death ineffective without this “other” work? Christ’s intercession is not a second work outside of His death. Rather, Christ is presenting before the Father His perfect and complete sacrifice

    If the intercession is a mere presentation of his sacrifice, then what is the use of it? Does Christ just say: “Look Father, what I have accomplished?” No! The intercession is the work of an advocate (as White himselfs admits in that article), and an advocate is only needed where there is disunity and conflict between parties. Why is there conflict? Because the sacrifice of Christ hasn’t removed any sins until it is brought before the Father. So Christ doesn’t simply “present” his perfect sacrifice, but actually accomplishes propitiation and forgiveness before the Father thereby.
    But what is amazing, is that White actually says Christ’s death would be effective without his intercession. Such is utter nonsense and unbiblical, for what he’s in fact saying is, that the death alone would save anyone without Christ being raised to everlasting life. In fact the “Statement of Faith” of A & O Ministries mentions Christ’s death though, but doesn’t spend one single word speaking of the resurrection. That’s quite remarkable, a christian confession that doesn’t contain the resurrection of Christ!!!

    One must ask, what does intercession actually accomplish to Owen and White? If all sins have been erased “on the cross”, then why intercession? But why wouldn’t there be any forgiveness of sins, if Christ hadn’t resurrected (1 Cor 15,17)?
    It is almost funny that White denies that Christ does any “second work outside of His death”. Well scripture says, that the shame of the cross was followd by a glorious resurrection and ascension to heaven so that Christ will now make intercession for the believers!!

    No other work than dying, right?

    If Christ hadn’t resurrected and didn’t intercede for us, then he would have suffered the wrath of the Father on the cross, but we would still not get rid of our sin, because this only happens by intercession. Then there would be “double payment”. But since Christ has risen he can intercede and thereby avoid “double payment”. Christ’s suffering on the cross is turned into a sacrifice only because he now lives and makes intercession.

    So here is the distinction between provision and application which Owen ignores.

    White explains for whom Christ intercedes:
    It is impossible that the Son would not intercede for everyone for whom He died. If Christ dies as their Substitute, how could He not present His sacrifice in their stead before the Father? Can we really believe that Christ would die for someone that He did not intend to save?

    The problem here lies within the phrase “as their Subsitute”, because as mentioned above the sacrifice is not for many particular individuals who are counted and substituted, but is a corporate sacrifice, that is for the people, regardless how many persons that involves, akin to the corporate nation of Israel. Who are the people of God? All believers.

  25. Dear brothers,

    The point was that the priest intercedes for all that he makes a sacrifice for, it seems that you want to divorce the Biblical meaning here. That is why I said it is not different because the priest sacrifices for a group and always intercedes for that same group. Trying to divorce the sacrifice offered from the intercession made for runs counter the bible.

    Furthermore, on the cross Christ paid for all the blessings that believers receive such as faith. That is why the question whose sin did Christ atone for on the cross is valid. He paid the price once for all for all that the Father gave Him.

    That is why to say that all that reject pay the penalty for all their sin just seems strange to me. Either Christ paid the penalty for them or He didn’t.

    As for eternal justification, I tend to view it like Levi paying tithes to Melchisedec. For a more proper view of it though I refer any reader to this article

    Grace & Peace

  26. The point was that the priest intercedes for all that he makes a sacrifice for,

    Right, he made a sacrifice for all believers, and intercedes for all believers.

    it seems that you want to divorce the Biblical meaning here.

    I don’t divorce these with regard to the objects (believes) but with regard to the actions. The first (death on the cross) makes the provision, the second (intercession) makes it actual.

    So unless the forgiveness is actual, the objects are in their sins and under God’s wrath.

    That is why I said it is not different because the priest sacrifices for a group and always intercedes for that same group.

    That’s right. But without intercession no forgiveness. And without resurrection no intercession. That’s why it is so stupid for James White to say there is “no work outside of His death” . We are not saved by a dead savior, but by a living one! A dead savior cannot save anyone.
    Unless you believe in the risen savior he doesn’t intercede for you. Therefore, you are not forgiven unless you believe.

    Furthermore, on the cross Christ paid for all the blessings that believers receive such as faith.

    That’s unscriptural heresy. Christ did not die in order to make it possible for natural man to believe in Him. The calvinsitic idea of faith being a gift, is heretical.

    That is why the question whose sin did Christ atone for on the cross is valid. He paid the price once for all for all that the Father gave Him.

    I guess the phrase “that the Father gave Him” is carrying a truck load of calvnistic bias and eisegesis isn’t it? Christ atoned on the cross for the People of God. That’s a corporate unit.

    That is why to say that all that reject pay the penalty for all their sin just seems strange to me. Either Christ paid the penalty for them or He didn’t.

    The people of God is counted as a corporate union. Whether any individual belongs to that union depends on their faith. So if you don’t believe, you don’t belong to God’s people. And if you don’t belong to God’s people, Christ did not die for you. So it is dependent on a person’s faith whether he/she belongs to God’s people. So finally there won’t be any blood “wasted” so to speak. All believers will be saved and there is no blood “wasted” for unbelievers.

  27. The people of God is described as a “spotless bride” of Christ, “the church”, or the “body of Christ”. It is treated as an entirety. Whosoever beleives in Christ becomes a member of the people of God.

  28. Mitch,

    Again, the point is that the atonement is provisional. You equate the atonement to a payment and feel that if the payment is made then everyone automatically benefits from the payment. But if payment (which seems to be the only way you understand atonement) is provided for all, then it becomes apparent immediately that the application can still be conditional. God can provide atonement/payment and we can still fail to receive the provision of that payment if we do not access the payment provided for us. This is plainly Biblical,

    “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Rom. 5:1, 2).

    You seem to want to break the atonement down into exact payment for every specific sin anyone ever committed in a perfectly quantitative fashion. A lie = $.04, murder = $1.50, etc. and that God made the exact right payment to cover only the specific value of the sins committed only by the “elect”. That is a truly bizarre and unbiblical way to look at it in my opinion.

    What was satisfied was the offense of sin to a holy God in the death of Christ. Christ’s death satisfied God’s just requirements and diverted His wrath to all those who would believe in His Son and be joined to Him. It is only through union with Christ that the transfer of payment (if you will) is made, because Christ alone paid the penalty. Those joined to Him in faith are justified on account of the atonement, those who remain estranged from Christ continue in condemnation.

    Through union with Christ our sin is covered and we are accounted righteous. This covering and righteousness is provided for all while only those who receive Christ by faith gain access to those benefits (Rom. 5:1, 2 above).

    Your link doesn’t seem to work so I can’t comment on that.

    a helmet,

    If you are saying that God did not die for unbelievers in a provisional sense, then I must disagree with you there.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  29. Of course the atonement is universal because the identity of the people of God is open. Everyone who believes will be a member of God’s people. So the atonement is for God’s people but since that might theoretically be everyone, it is for the whole world and therefore universal. One purchase price for an indefinite number of persons. Whosoever believes will become a member of God’s people. I think that is in sound accordance with the scriptures about the topic. And those who believe and are thus God’s people will receive intercession and thereby forgiveness.

    In the end, the people of God consists of all believers, and then its identity is settled. And since the atonement was made for God’s people from the beginning and not for others, I said there is no waste of Christ’s blood. It seems that the price of redemption on the cross doesn’t depend on the number of persons, rather it is one corporation bought by Christ’s blood. One price paid once . But in the beginning it is open who the members of that corporation (people of God) are, and how many persons it includes. That depends on individual faith. Therefore the atonement is universal and provisional for everyone and still only for God’s people.

    So the point is, that there doesn’t seem to be a redemption price in proportion to the number of persons, but one purchase price, one offering, for the “body of Christ” — whoever will belong to that.

    That’s how I see it. I think that’s in accordance with scripture.

  30. Dear Ben,

    Thank you for this wonderful interaction and I will keep thinking on what you wrote. I am sorry that you feel that I have such a shallow view of the atonement, in that it appears to you that I equate it in dollar and cent language, I fear as usual I am not as clear as I should’ve been.

    Here is my simple take on the matter and I will leave it at that, as always feel free to respond or anyone else to have the last word.

    On the cross our glorious Lord and Savior satisfied the Father’s wrath and took away all our sin. I believe that part of what Christ did on the cross was reconcile us to God in that He bridged the great divide between us. I believe with all my heart that on the cross Christ paid the penalty of my sins and graciously took my place.

    Our main difference or perhaps one of our main differences is that I see one group in the atonement and you see at least two separate groups in the atonement. By that I mean what I have stated before, the ones that Christ atoned for on the cross is the same as the ones that Christ intercedes for to the Father. It is my understanding that you see at least two distinct groups here, one group being all mankind and one separate group that is being interceded for by Christ. On this we are miles apart.

    Thank you for your graciousness and for providing a forum where we can discuss such things in a civil manner.

    Grace & Peace

  31. Mitch,

    It seems that your comments are addressing some things that “a helmet” said, rather than what I said. If I was wrong about you seeing the atonement as specifically quantitative, then I apologize, but it seemed to be what you were saying.

    Let’s focus on “payment” for a minute. The Bible is clear that the wages of sin is death. So Christ’s death satisfied the “wages” (or payment if you prefer) of sin. When we come to be in union with Christ His death becomes our death. In other words, the payment (death of Christ) is placed on our account (so to speak). When we are joined to Christ we are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. So the penalty of sin that we owe has been satisfied by Christ as a substitute, but we personally benefit from His death only through union/identification with Him. Only then does His death become our death and His life become our life. Prior to union with Christ His death avails nothing for us, though it is available (provided for us).

    So it is not a matter of blood being wasted or specific payment for specific sins of specific people. It is a matter of the penalty of sin being satisfied in Christ’s death and that death being imputed to us on the condition of faith union with Christ.

    This comports with all the Biblical data in my opinion.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  32. Well, I’m correcting my first comment above.
    The notion, that Christ didn’t actually forgive sins on the cross isn’t correct if a person believes. For a christian, who believes the gospel, the atonement was complete by Christ alone on the cross. But the atonement is unlimited, sufficient and provisional for everybody in the world. There is no “definite/limited atonement” in Calvin’s sense. And Owen’s syllogism is of course fallacious as we’ve seen. It denies that man plays a role in the process, even though it is concerned with man.

  33. Notice also that Christ’s intercession on one’s behalf is predicated upon coming to Him,

    Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

    Jesus is the High Priest over the house of God (Hebrews 10:21); there’s nothing in scripture to my recollection about Him being High Priest of the unbelieving. Rather, He’s the Priest of those obedient to the faith,

    And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek…” (Hebrews 5:9-10)

    Furthermore, He’s the mediator of the new covenant,

    …how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:14-15)

    Those who do not yet believe in Him are separated from the covenant. So yes, Christ did die for all, that is to say, He can make intercession for and give life to any who come to Him, but will not do so apart from faith in Him.

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