He Does Really and Actually Save!

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 What does Reformed theology teach about the extent of Christ’s atonement?  Francis Turretin (d. 1687) explained definite atonement well:

“The common opinion of the Reformed is that Christ – from the mere good pleasure of the Father – was appointed and given as a Redeemer and head, not to all men, but to a certain number of men.  By the election of God, these compose his mystical body.  For these alone, Christ, in order to fulfill the decree of election and the counsel of his Father, was willing and determined to die, and also to add to the infinite price of his death a most efficacious and special intention to substitute himself in their place and to acquire faith and salvation for them.”

Turretin then  went on to mention the texts in Scripture that talk about Christ’s death being for “his people,” “his sheep,” “his friends,” “his church,” and “his body” (Mt. 1:21, Eph 5:23, Jn 10:15, Jn 15:13, etc.).  Turretin also noted how the acquisition and application of redemption are inseparable from the extent of it.  In other words, Jesus redeemed his people and applied redemption to the same ones, his elect.

“It is gratuitous [unwarranted] to say that Christ is the Savior of those for whom salvation is indeed acquired, but to whom it will never be applied.  Even the very word ‘to save’ denotes the actual communication of salvation, and Christ is Jesus, not only because he is willing and able to save and because he removes all obstacles out of the way of salvation, but because he does really and actually save his people, not only by his merit acquiring salvation for them, but also efficaciously applying it to them, which was the intent of God in sending Christ and the end of his mission (as the angel clearly intimates by the imposition of the name ‘Jesus’).

Jesus is not possibly a Savior; he’s not a potential Redeemer.  He actually saves and is a true Redeemer!

The above quotes are found in volume 2 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 458 & 461.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


God the Peacemaker: A Review

God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom, Vol. 25 (New Studies in Biblical Theology) The apostle Paul said that God, through Christ, was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things… by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20 NIV).  God is the great peacemaker who brings peace through Jesus’ death on the cross.  What exactly does this mean?  Graham Cole explores this theme in his 2009 publication, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings ShalomIn a word, this book argues that “atonement brings shalom by defeating the enemies of peace, overcoming the barriers both to reconciliation and to the restoration of creation” (p. 229).

The first section of the book talks about God’s divine perfections and man’s deep imperfections.  The second section is a discussion of God’s remedy for man’s sin.  The final section is where Cole ties it all together by talking about peace, Christian living in light of the atonement, and God’s glory.  There is also an appendix which traces various views on the atonement (although it doesn’t really discuss the extent of the atonement).

I enjoyed this book because it goes a bit deeper into the doctrine of Christ’s atonement.  In line with historic Christian theology, Cole emphasized God’s love and justice which do not contradict, but come together in Christ’s work on the cross.  Cole also did a nice job tracing the Bible’s story line and how the atonement is at the center; he made it clear that the OT promises are fulfilled in Christ.  Of course, the book also talks about how Christ’s sacrificial death satisfied divine justice.

Although I didn’t agree with every single conclusion in the book, I don’t have any major criticisms of the it.  I do, however, wish Cole would have talked more about the cosmic shalom that the atonement brings.  He really only discussed the cosmic aspect in three or four pages.  Based on the subtitle, I was expecting a longer and more detailed discussion of the cosmic aspect.

Graham Cole’s God the Peacemaker is a helpful resource on the doctrine of the atonement.  To be honest, I think Louis Berkhof’s treatment of the atonement in his Systematic Theology is better, and George Smeaton’s book on the atonement is more detailed and comprehensive, but Cole’s addition to this topic is one worth reading as well.  It’ll help the reader better understand the significance of Jesus’ work on the cross, which certainly does bring peace!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


For Those He Came To Save

Vicarious Atonement through Christ Most of our readers know of Louis Berkhof’s excellent Systematic Theology.  But Berkhof also has some other gems out there, including Vicarious Atonement Through Christ.  In just under 200 pages, Berkhof discusses the doctrine of Christ’s satisfaction, including the necessity of the atonement, the objective and vicarious nature of the atonement, the subjective effects of the atonement, and so forth.  One section very much worth reading is his chapter on what has been called “Definite Atonement” or “Limited Atonement.”  The chapter is titled, “The Restricted Design of the Atonement.”  It is basically an outstanding 13 page outline and summary of this truth (one of the best short summaries that I’ve read, by the way!).

One biblical proof Berkhof gives to explain particular redemption is proof from the doctrine of election:

The doctrine of sovereign election, as taught in Scripture, may certainly be regarded as expressive of the purpose of God respecting the redemption of sinners. It is to the effect that God from all eternity decreed to save a certain definite number of the fallen human race, and at the same time determined the means by which He would effectuate their salvation. It is but reasonable to suppose that He adapted the means precisely to the end which He had in view. Since the election was clearly personal in decreeing the salvation of certain persons who stood out clearly in the mind of God, we can only suppose that He designed the necessary means also for those and for no other persons and made them effective for the end in view.

What consistency would there be in God’s electing certain persons unto life everlasting, then sending Christ into the world to make salvation possible for all men but certain for none, and finally leaving it entirely to man to accept or reject the offered salvation, perhaps only to find that others than those whom He had elected made use of the opportunity. And it does not help matters much to substitute foreknowledge for predestination, as the Arminian does. If God knows precisely, as He does, who will and who will not accept the offer of salvation, does it seem reasonable to think that He would send Christ into the world to suffer and die for the purpose of saving those of whom He is sure that they will never meet the conditions and be saved?

The question of Boettner is quite pertinent: “Who can believe that He, like a feeble mortal, would ‘shoot at the convoy without perceiving the individual birds?’ ” Moreover, it should be borne in mind that the positive will of God, His eternal decree, cannot be frustrated by men. “The counsel of Jehovah standeth fast forever,” Ps. 33:11. “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.… I have purposed. I will also do it,” Isa. 46:10, 11. “In whom we also were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will,” Eph. 1:11. According to the doctrine of universal atonement the very purpose of God is frustrated. While He purposes to save all men, only a limited number is actually saved. The purpose of God is defeated through unbelief. Man rather than God is in control of the destinies of life.

Logos Edition: Berkhof, Louis. Vicarious Atonement through Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1936.

Or, find it on Amazon (HERE).

shane lems
hammond, wi

Satisfaction or Atonement (Part 2)?

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes Several weeks ago I mentioned the difference between these theological terms: satisfaction and atonement.  By way of reminder the word “atonement” specifically has to do with Jesus’ death in the place of sinners (his passive obedience).  The word “satisfaction” means that Christ satisfied the demands of God’s justice in the place of sinners (he lived and died for them; this is his active and passive obedience).

In the past, Reformed theologians usually used the term satisfaction when talking about Christ’s saving work for us.  Charles Hodge, for example, preferred the term “satisfaction” to the term “atonement.”  His objection to using the term “atonement” when talking about the work of Christ is three-fold.  First, he said the term itself is ambiguous; it means several different things (reconciliation, compensation, expiation).  Second, he said the term isn’t comprehensive enough to define Christ’s work of salvation: “His saving work includes far more than his expiatory sufferings.”  Third, Hodge argued that the term wasn’t a common one in Reformed theology (back in the mid-19th century): “It is important to adhere to old words if we would adhere to old doctrines.”

So Hodge preferred the word “satisfaction” when talking about Christ’s work to save sinners:

“The word satisfaction is the one which for ages has been generally used to designate the special work of Christ in the salvation of men.  With the Latin theologians the word is ‘satisfactio,’ with the German writers, ‘Genugthun,’ its exact etymological equivalent, ‘the doing enough.’  By the satisfaction of Christ is meant all He has done to satisfy the demands of the law and justice of God, in the place of and in behalf of sinners.  This word has the advantage of being precise, comprehensive, and generally accepted, and should therefore be adhered to.”

Hodge goes on to explain how Christ, in his obedient life and sacrificial death, satisfied the justice of God fully in the place of his people.  Christ’s satisfaction isn’t only about justice, it is also a covenantal matter that has to do with grace, justification, and divine love.  The term “satisfaction” includes all of these things, which is why Hodge says it is preferable to the term “atonement.”

I’m not suggesting we drop the term “atonement” here, but I do want to note that the term “satisfaction” is a good one.  It should be used (and explained!) more often, since it is a helpful term that captures Christ’s perfect work of salvation: his active and passive obedience for his people.  I suppose then, instead of or alongside of “limited atonement,” we should talk about “definite satisfaction.”  As Machen said,

“[Jesus] paid for us the law’s penalty, and he obeyed for us the law’s commands.  He saved us from hell, and he earned for us our entrance into heaven.  All that we have, then we owe unto him.”

The above notes from Hodge can be found in Volume II of his Systematic Theology, pages 469ff.  The Machen quote is found in God Transcendent, page 191.

shane lems

Hodge, Hymns, and Christ’s Satisfaction

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes In Charles Hodge’s discussion of Christ’s satisfaction he takes some time to refute the false teaching that Jesus’ life and death simply gave us a moral example.  Some have indeed taught that Jesus’ death was an example of love for us to follow, but not a substitutionary atonement.  In other words, some teach that Christ’s work was not objective (satisfying God’s justice) but subjective (something that moves our hearts).  Here’s Hodge (I underlined the words of the hymns to make it easier to read) (sorry, one more thing – don’t miss the last sentence!):

There are two hymns which, perhaps, beyond all others, are dear to the hearts of all Christians who speak the English language. The one written by Charles Wesley, an Arminian; the other by Toplady, a Calvinist. It is hard to see what meaning can be attached to these hymns by those who hold that Christ died simply to teach us something, or to make a moral impression on us or others. How can they say, ‘Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly?’ Why should they fly to Him if He be only a teacher or moral reformer?

What do they mean when they say, ‘Hide me, O my Savior hide?’  Hide from what? Not from the vindicatory justice of God, for they admit no such attribute.

Other refuge have I none; refuge from what?

All my trust on Thee is laid.  For what do we trust Him? According to their theory He is not the ground of our confidence. It is not for his righteousness, but for our own that we are to be accepted by God.

It would seem that those only who hold the common Church doctrine can say, Thou, O Christ, art all I need.  All I need as a creature, as a sinner, as guilty, as polluted, as miserable and helpless; all I need for time or for eternity. So of Toplady’s precious hymn, Rock of ages, cleft for me; for me personally and individually; as Paul said he lived “by faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side that flowed;
Be of sin the double cure;
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

How can such language be used by those who deny the necessity of expiation; who hold that guilt need not be washed away, that all that is necessary is that we should be made morally good? No one can say, Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling, who does not believe that Christ “bore our sins in his own body on the tree.”

It is a historical fact that where false theories of the atonement prevail, Christ and his work are put in the background. We hear from the pulpits much about God as a moral governor; much about the law and obligation, and of the duty of submission; but little about Christ, of the duty of fleeing to Him, of receiving Him, of trusting in Him, of renouncing our own righteousness that we may put on the righteousness of God; and little of our union with Him, of his living in us, and of our duty to live by faith in Him. Thus new theories introduce a new religion.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology II.II.VII.6 (or simply volume 3 pages 526-7).

shane lems

Satisfaction or Atonement?

A Body of Divinity: Contained In Sermons Upon The Westminster Assembly's Catechism By Thomas Watson Most of the time when we talk about Jesus’ death for us we use the term atonement.  That’s a fitting term which reflects biblical truth about Jesus’ life-giving death.  However, there’s another theological term that has also been used with reference to Christ’s work of salvation: satisfaction.

What’s the difference?  Basically, the word atonement specifically refers to Christ’s death while the term satisfaction refers more broadly to Christ’s life and death.  This is one reason why A. A. Hodge, for example, said the term “satisfaction” was preferable when speaking about Christ’s work to save sinners.  Here’s how Thomas Watson explains it when he discusses Christ’s priestly office.  He says that Christ’s satisfaction “consists of two branches:”

1) His active obedience.  ‘He fulfilled all righteousness” (Mt 3:15).  Christ did everything which the law required; his holy life was a perfect commentary upon the law of God; and he obeyed the law for us.

2) His passive obedience.  Our guilt being transferred and imputed to him, he suffered the penalty which was due to us; he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  …Sin could not be done away without blood (Heb. 9:22).  Christ was not only a lamb without spot, but a lamb slain.

Geerhardus Vos, in his third volume of Reformed Dogmatics, speaks similarly:

“What is the best designation to refer to passive and active obedience together?  The term ‘satisfaction’ (satisfactio) includes both and emphasizes what is common to both.” (3.4.54).

Both theological words are good and should be used.  But it is helpful when we think about Jesus’ death to remember that he did more than die for us – he also lived for us!  He obeyed God’s law and paid the penalty for sin in our place; he satisfied the claims of God’s justice for us.

shane lems

A Triune Perspective on Limited (Definite) Atonement

The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide Edwin Palmer (d. 1980) wrote a helpful book called The Five Points of Calvinism.  This is a good resource for those who want a detailed yet readable and relatively brief explanation of the doctrines of grace.  Here’s an edited summary of Palmer’s discussion of Limited (Definite) Atonement which he explains in a Trinitarian and biblical way.  The doctrine of Limited Atonement is based on:

1) The Father’s Election.  Since the objects of the Father’s saving love are particular, definite, and limited (Amos 3:2, Rom. 1:7, 8:29, 9:13, Col. 3:12, 1 Thess. 1:4, Jude 1) so are the objects of Christ’s death.  Because God has loved certain ones and not all, because he has sovereignly and immutably determined that these particular ones will be saved, he sent his Son to die for them, to save them, and not all the world.  Because there is a definite election, there is a definite atonement.  Because there is a particular election, there is a particular atonement.  God’s electing love and Christ’s atonement go hand in hand and have the same people in view.  There is unity between the work of the Father and the Son.

2) The Son’s Atonement.  The Bible teaches the death of Jesus in at least four different ways.  When Christ died, 1) he made a substitutionary sacrifice for sins (Heb. 9-10); 2) he propitiated, that is, appeased or placated, the righteous wrath of God (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17, 2 John 2:2; 4:10); 3) he reconciled his people to God – that is, he removed the enmity between them and God (Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:20, etc.); and 4) he redeemed them from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). …The nature of the atonement – what did Christ actually do? – answers the question: For whom did Christ die?  The noun (atonement) defines its adjective (limited).  If the atonement does not actually save, does not really remove God’s curse from people, does not actually redeem them, then it indeed can be for all the world, even for those who are in hell.  But if the death of Jesus is what the Bible says it is – a substitutionary sacrifice for sins, an actual and not a hypothetical redemption, whereby the sinner is really reconciled to God – then obviously, it cannot be for every man in the world.  For then everybody would be saved, and obviously they are not.

3) The Spirit’s Indwelling. In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul notes (in line with Romans 6) that if Christians are dead to sin, then they are made alive in Christ.  If they are spiritually buried with Christ, they will spiritually rise with him.  Although Paul does not state it explicitly in this passage, we know from the rest of Scripture that this is possible only through the Holy Spirit’s work.  …There is an inexorable chain of events in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: a) Christ died for all believers; therefore b) all believers die spiritually in Christ; and c) they all rise again spiritually in Christ.  If (a) is stated, (b) and (c) must follow.  …The Holy Spirit does not apply the death of Christ to all people, leaving it in their hands ultimately as to whether or not they would be saved.  Rather, the Spirit comes to those people whom the Father had chosen and for whom the Son had died and he causes them to die to sin and be born again.

In summary, the purpose of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit coincide.  They strive for and accomplish the same purpose: The salvation of those whom the Father has loved with a special love.

To read these three points in their entirety, see pages 52-60 in The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010).

shane lems