Does the Heidelberg Deny Limited Atonement?

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Hamalas

whippersnapper
Does the Heidelberg Catechism deny limited atonement?

Question 37 of the Heidelberg reads this way: 37. Q. What do you confess when you say that He suffered?

A. During all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race.[1] Thus, by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice,[2] He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation,[3] and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.[4]
[1] Is. 53; I Tim. 2:6; I Pet. 2:24; 3:18. [2] Rom. 3:25; I Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:14; I John 2:2; 4:10. [3] Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:13; Heb. 9:12; I Pet 1:18, 19. [4] John 3:16; Rom. 3:24-26; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:15.

Does this language deny limited atonement?
 

Vox Oculi

Puritan Board Freshman
I have understood the atonement to be described two ways.

1. The way I prefer, John Owen's way John Owen for whom did Christ die .jpg : that Jesus' death directly paid the sins of the elect, only, at once.

2. The other way, which makes a bigger deal of the language of Scripture calling our sin(?) a debt to be paid. This view sees Christ's sacrifice, infinite as it is, "overpaying" the judgment deserved for all sins of all men. Therefore the sacrifice of Christ is viewed to be an infinite sum of righteousness deposited in an account, which any of the finite numbers of human beings on earth can withdraw from, at such a time as they repent and plead for salvation. THEN, the funds are transferred. This way they see the debt as already paid, but only effectual for each person upon the moment of conversion.

I think they make too much of a deal out of the notion of time. In God's eternality, Christ's sacrifice can be instantly credited to my account at the moment of my salvation regardless of any temporal distance between the two events. It is not "waiting for me." It was effectual at the moment He said "it is finished," and the fact that I became aware of my since-eternity-past-preordained salvation roughly 1,980 years later in earthly time is irrelevant to this. I think view 2 is too much like a "potential salvation," and therefore I disagree with such a conception of the atonement.

addendum: logically, the idea of Christ suffering for the sins of men, even if we acknowledge that they have not been credited with His righteousness so that they still deserve hell, nevertheless begs the question quite severely: why suffer for something needlessly? Suppose not a single person ever believed. Would Christ still have gone to the Cross and suffered for everyone's sins if universal damnation meant that not a single person would be saved by that sacrifice? Clearly this is unthinkable. The idea of Christ suffering for a person's sins, and failing to save that person from hell, is an unreasonable state of affairs. Therefore the "paid now, credited later" idea still doesn't resolve the issue of using language like "He paid the sins of the whole human race." Even if you see the atonement as a bank account of infinite righteousness that you withdraw at the moment of justification, the judgment paid can still only be an amount equal to the judgment deserved by the elect. Otherwise you have Christ dying for those in hell. This forces one of two alternatives: people are dying in hell unjustly because they're subjected to 'double jeopardy,' or God is wasteful and poor at logistics.

Bank account analogy or no bank account analogy, the notion that Jesus died for all sins and not just the sins of the elect, to whit, is not supported by Scripture.

final note: I would agree with what I perceive to be the motive of the bank account analogy: that the worth of Jesus' sacrifice is infinitely greater than even the infinite judgment deserved by the millions or billions of elect that He suffered for. STILL, that Jesus' sacrifice is of infinite worth does not translate to "overpayment." That's because we don't simply appeal to Christ's worth in having our sins atoned for, but to His actual suffering, and this suffering would be equivalent to the amount of justice executed on Him on behalf of the elect. Jesus could certainly bear a greater degree of infinite wrath than that God the Father poured out for the finite, specific number of elect. But the fact that He can does not mean that He did. His suffering need not be equal to His worth. Only to the actual level of wrath that God would have otherwise executed on those who are saved from that wrath. Otherwise the Father would have punished the Son more than necessary to accomplish salvation. Seeing as any overpunishment would not be effectual in saving the un-elect at any rate, it is essentially an imaginary punishment. Jesus is punished for nothing, if He suffered for more than the sins of the elect. In conclusion:

1. I prefer a direct payment analogy rather than the bank deposit and withdrawal analogy.
2. Even if one prefers the bank analogy, Scripture does not allow for the belief that Jesus' sacrifice was to endure greater wrath than that which was actually due the elect.
3. Consequently, one still cannot say that Christ died for the sins of the whole world, or whole human race, unless one is speaking from a strictly human perspective where the atonement can be seen as potential but not actual for some. In reality, it cannot be potential, and so it cannot be for the whole world, without assaulting the nature of God by accusing Him of executing more wrath than justice requires.

I hope that made me clear and so that no one thinks I'm criticizing established theology, and also that I hopefully elucidated the reason for the language in the original question.
 
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timfost

Puritan Board Senior
As a strict subscriptionist to the Three Forms, I've thought long and hard about this one. Fesko, in his Theology of the Westminster Standards explains:

[A] number of Reformed theologians employ the sufficient-efficient distinction, including Calvin, Turretin , Zanchi, Ursinus, and Herman Witsius (1636– 1708). 82 The strict particularists—those who reject the sufficiency-efficiency distinction and argue that Christ died strictly and exclusively for the elect— include Johannes Maccovius (1588– 1644) and Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635– 1711).

(Fesko is describing the early reformation scene.) Although the strict particularist does promote the intrinsic, infinite worth of the sacrifice, they do not believe that Christ died sufficiently for all.

The sufficient-efficient formula was also promoted in the Canons of Dort. Second Head, articles 3-6 speak to the sufficiency (esp. 5-6) and the efficacy in 8. Technically speaking, this is not the language of strict particularism, at least not language favored by them. Further proof that Dort favors such a distinction is seen in the British delegation to Dort, which was strongly (non-Amyraldian) hypothetical universalist (see Bishop Davenant, for example).

Such a distinction considers the following:

1. The non-elect can actually reject the atonement (John 3:18, 2 Thes. 2:10).

2. Scripture contains plenty universal language (i.e. "all"), and no language with the negative (i.e. "Christ did not die for some").

3. It gives substance to the free offer for each person to whom Christ is offered.

Obviously these things could be debated, but I'm hoping to demonstrate by this that such a distinction is both reformed and confessional.
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
Not to derail my own thread, but would the use of such a distinction answer the common Lutheran objection to Limited atonement?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Does this language deny limited atonement?

The elect are human and therefore belong to the human race. In atoning for the sin of the elect the Saviour necessarily atoned for the sin of men, which means that he atoned for the sin of those belonging to the human race. Such a fact in and of itself does not speak to the extent of the atonement as far as the beneficiaries are concerned. It is only dealing with the nature of the atonement in relation to the nature of sin. Whether Christ atoned for one man or for every man the atonement itself was made in and for the nature that had sinned.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Ursinus himself, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, seems to affirm the distinction between sufficient and efficient atonement. So he was aware of the objection and addressed it, though I'm not sure his phrasing actually settles the question. Here, from the notes to Q&A 37, is the paragraph that pertains:

Objection 4: If Christ made satisfaction for all, then ought all to be saved. But all are not saved. Therefore he did not make a perfect satisfaction. Answer: Christ satisfied for all, as respects the sufficiency of the satisfaction he made, but not as it respects the application thereof; for he fulfilled the law in a two-fold respect. First, by his own righteousness; and secondly by making satisfaction for our sins, each of which is most perfect. But the satisfaction is made ours by the application, which is also two-fold; the former of which is made by God, when he justifies us on account of the merit of his Son, and brings it to pass that we cease from sin; the latter is accomplished by us through faith. For we apply unto ourselves the merit of Christ when, by a true faith, we are fully persuaded that God for the sake of the satisfaction of his Son, remits unto us our sins. Without this application, the satisfaction of Christ is of no benefit to us.
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
Ursinus himself, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, seems to affirm the distinction between sufficient and efficient atonement. So he was aware of the objection and addressed it, though I'm not sure his phrasing actually settles the question. Here, from the notes to Q&A 37, is the paragraph that pertains:

Objection 4: If Christ made satisfaction for all, then ought all to be saved. But all are not saved. Therefore he did not make a perfect satisfaction. Answer: Christ satisfied for all, as respects the sufficiency of the satisfaction he made, but not as it respects the application thereof; for he fulfilled the law in a two-fold respect. First, by his own righteousness; and secondly by making satisfaction for our sins, each of which is most perfect. But the satisfaction is made ours by the application, which is also two-fold; the former of which is made by God, when he justifies us on account of the merit of his Son, and brings it to pass that we cease from sin; the latter is accomplished by us through faith. For we apply unto ourselves the merit of Christ when, by a true faith, we are fully persuaded that God for the sake of the satisfaction of his Son, remits unto us our sins. Without this application, the satisfaction of Christ is of no benefit to us.

That's one of the helpful distinctions that came out in the thread that was linked to above. Which leads me to my question about whether or not the use of such a distinction would answer the common Lutheran objection to limited atonement. Any thoughts?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
whether or not the use of such a distinction would answer the common Lutheran objection to limited atonement.

If it did, that particular aspect of the Reformed/Lutheran breach would long ago be resolved. Ergo, since they have not revoked their objection in that (or any of the other major divisions), it follows that they are unmoved by our declarations.

I do not say one in particular has necessarily heard of it, and self-consciously weighed it and found it wanting. But that their respected theologians have come down on the side of a general atonement, and are offended by Calvinist particularity in any case.

There are certain challenges that opponents put to us, which they suppose might make us squirm or be uncomfortable with the hard edges of our doctrine. But the well-catechized Reformed man does not blink.

Neither does the Lutheran blink when confronted with the clear implication of his theology that Christ's death does not save all for whom he died. As far as the Lutheran is concerned, the Calvinist has come to an erroneous conclusion; nor can he (the Calvinist) be sure that he is one (of the elect) for whom Christ died, if the atonement be not for all in an undifferentiated sense.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Ursinus acknowledges that the universal passages have been interpreted as either 1) the elect world, or 2) every individual sufficiently. However, in his thinking, both categories fall under the sufficient-efficient category when he warns:

The reason of the former lies in this, that the atonement of Christ is sufficient for expiating all the sins of all men, or of the whole world, if only all men will make application thereof unto themselves by faith. For it cannot be said to be insufficient, unless we give countenance to that horrible blasphemy (which God forbid!) that some blame of the destruction of the ungodly results from a defect in the merit of the mediator.

Ursinus deals with the question "for whom did Christ die" in 40.3 (found here http://www.seeking4truth.com/ursinus/zuquestion40.htm).

I believe that the Lutherans teach that Christ died equally for all (such distinctions they share with the French Amyraldians, though they get to the same conclusion differently). Augustinians maintain the distinction--even when maintaining the sufficient-efficient formula--that Christ did not die equally for all (see Dort 2.8), or else He would have merited faith for all.

Charles Hodge argues from the sufficient-efficient standpoint, and in doing this maintains the particular aspects of the Atonement while reconciling it with its universality, a distinction that cannot be made by the strict particularist.

Here is the link for Hodge. https://www.monergism.com/whom-did-Christ-die

Both links are very worth reading.

Still others argue that Christ's death is the cause of common grace. Hodge mentions that the creation is immediately preserved through the blood of Christ. Bavinck and R. B. Kuiper also promoted this idea. I believe Turretin may as well, but I haven't read him for myself on this. Col. 1:20 is interesting in this regard.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Not to derail my own thread, but would the use of such a distinction answer the common Lutheran objection to Limited atonement?

I'll try not to come off snarky to any Lutherans on the board. I wondered this when I was Roman Catholic and my answers from Lutherans were usually to avoid "rationalism" and just go by what Scriptures say. I don't think most thinking Lutheran's care about an "answer." They claim Universal Atonement is scriptural despite how it "appears" to human reason. The same goes with the ability to lose your salvation while "mysteriously" holding to monergism.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Not to derail my own thread, but would the use of such a distinction answer the common Lutheran objection to Limited atonement?

I'll try not to come off snarky to any Lutherans on the board. I wondered this when I was Roman Catholic and my answers from Lutherans were usually to avoid "rationalism" and just go by what Scriptures say. I don't think most thinking Lutheran's care about an "answer." They claim Universal Atonement is scriptural despite how it "appears" to human reason. The same goes with the ability to lose your salvation while "mysteriously" holding to monergism.

While I appreciate that the Lutherans don't want to reduce Scripture to rationalism, they don't seem to consider all of the data. The simple fact that faith was merited for the elect alone (see Rom. 1:5, 8:19, 32, Eph. 2:8, etc) is evidence that Christ's death is not equal for all.

However, I can't help wondering if strict particularism, in part, has forced them into their position, since it admittedly does go beyond the wording of Scripture to promote the negative "Christ did not die for all."

I'm curious to know what Lutherans on this board think about the Hodge article I posted above?
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Also, the mnemonic device TULIP seems to favor strict particularism over other confessional views (such as sufficient-efficient). It's a bit of an over-simplification of the historic discussion. Fesko again:

[F]ew early modern Reformed theologians saw themselves as the disciples of Calvin or as Calvinists. The term Calvinist was originally created as a term of derision in an effort by the opponents of the Reformed churches to isolate and brand them as sectarian. Hence, if read through the alien grid of the TULIP, early modern views are distorted, and fine nuances that were once carefully argued are lost with the ham-fisted separation between five-point and four-point Calvinism, as if Calvin were the standard and taught a strict doctrine of limited atonement, and all other views fall under the category of universal atonement.
 

Toasty

Puritan Board Sophomore
Ursinus himself, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, seems to affirm the distinction between sufficient and efficient atonement. So he was aware of the objection and addressed it, though I'm not sure his phrasing actually settles the question. Here, from the notes to Q&A 37, is the paragraph that pertains:

Objection 4: If Christ made satisfaction for all, then ought all to be saved. But all are not saved. Therefore he did not make a perfect satisfaction. Answer: Christ satisfied for all, as respects the sufficiency of the satisfaction he made, but not as it respects the application thereof; for he fulfilled the law in a two-fold respect. First, by his own righteousness; and secondly by making satisfaction for our sins, each of which is most perfect. But the satisfaction is made ours by the application, which is also two-fold; the former of which is made by God, when he justifies us on account of the merit of his Son, and brings it to pass that we cease from sin; the latter is accomplished by us through faith. For we apply unto ourselves the merit of Christ when, by a true faith, we are fully persuaded that God for the sake of the satisfaction of his Son, remits unto us our sins. Without this application, the satisfaction of Christ is of no benefit to us.

It sounds like it is saying that Christ has the power to save everyone, but He chose not to save everyone.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
However, I can't help wondering if strict particularism, in part, has forced them into their position, since it admittedly does go beyond the wording of Scripture to promote the negative "Christ did not die for all."

Exactly! Much like the strict "By Faith Alone-ist" goes beyond the wording of Scripture that states that a man is saved by faith and works!

Seriously, Tim, give it a rest with this line of argumentation. It's facile.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Exactly! Much like the strict "By Faith Alone-ist" goes beyond the wording of Scripture that states that a man is saved by faith and works!

Excellent parallel, Rich. The sinner who looks to Christ alone for justification must believe that Christ is not only sufficient, but efficacious, and that His blood and righteousness avail for the remission of sins and the imputation of righteousness. If he is not a strict particularist he must mix works with his faith or exercise faith as a work in order to make the blood and righteousness of Christ effective.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
Excellent parallel, Rich. The sinner who looks to Christ alone for justification must believe that Christ is not only sufficient, but efficacious, and that His blood and righteousness avail for the remission of sins and the imputation of righteousness. If he is not a strict particularist he must mix works with his faith or exercise faith as a work in order to make the blood and righteousness of Christ effective.

For the life of me how any Christian can deny such,which many indeed do,boggles my mind to no end along with the unbelief Our Lord's intention to save His sheep alone.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I'm not quite sure I followed the last few posts completely...

The work of Christ is the meritorious cause of justification. His righteousness is offered in the gospel, and faith lays hold of His righteousness for justification. Christ's righteousness is not merely sufficient for justification; it is in and of itself efficacious. If it were not efficacious, then something must be added to what Christ has done to make it efficacious, and that "something" would mean faith alone could not receive Christ and His righteousness for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. Something would have to be added to faith -- either works, graces, or faith itself as work or a grace.
 

Vox Oculi

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm not quite sure I followed the last few posts completely...

The work of Christ is the meritorious cause of justification. His righteousness is offered in the gospel, and faith lays hold of His righteousness for justification. Christ's righteousness is not merely sufficient for justification; it is in and of itself efficacious. If it were not efficacious, then something must be added to what Christ has done to make it efficacious, and that "something" would mean faith alone could not receive Christ and His righteousness for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. Something would have to be added to faith -- either works, graces, or faith itself as work or a grace.

I think my difficulty is with the definitions. In logical terms, I'm having a difficulty distinguishing between your use of 'efficacious' and the definition of 'sufficient.' I understand what both mean independently, but if we say that Christ's sacrifice is sufficient, my understanding is that we're also saying that it's efficacious--unless one supposed that the sacrifice and the payment of sin are somehow separate acts--that Christ suffered first, and then upon faith, His suffering substitutes for one's sins? Understandably, that's a disagreeable statement. But I wonder who would make it, such that affirming that the sacrifice is 'both sufficient and efficacious' is necessary?

Otherwise, if the distinction is meant to indicate something different, I'm clueless and would appreciate clarification.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
If he is not a strict particularist he must mix works with his faith or exercise faith as a work in order to make the blood and righteousness of Christ effective.

Let's not make the mistake of making any other position on the Atonement of a neonomian classification. Baxter's doctrine came later and it was explicitly denied in the CoD (see Second Head, Rejection, Paragraph 4).

Even British hypothetical universalism didn't teach this.

Davenant:

But if it is asserted, that the death of Christ, according to the appointment of God and the intention of Christ, has not merited the effectual application and infallible attainment of salvation which flows from it to those who are predestinated, it will improperly follow, that the merit of the Mediator, according to the will and intention of the Father who accepted it, and of the Son who exhibited it, did not more regard those who are elected than those who are passed by, but pertains equally to both. The consequence is plain, because it is evident, That according to the will of God, the merit of Christ in dying extends itself to all men on this condition, If they should apply it to themselves by faith. Therefore, unless Christ had intended by his death to merit for the elect, in addition, that the beneficial application should be made to them by faith being given to them, no special privilege would be given to them in the merit of Christ. For the death of Christ, according to the appointment of God, merited this for Judas, that on the condition of faith he might attain to eternal life; but it obtained in addition for Peter, that on account of the merit of Christ he should receive persevering faith and all other spiritual benefits which are required in order infallibly to obtain eternal life. (Dissertation on the Death of Christ, p. 532-533)

One doesn't have to like this view, but the teaching should not be poisoned by a careless conflation with neonomianism.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I'm having a difficulty distinguishing between your use of 'efficacious' and the definition of 'sufficient.'

Sufficient = "enough". As in: the supreme value of the death of the Son of God is so intrinsically valuable, of such immense worth, that it is more than enough to have satisfied for an innumerable number of worlds of sinners.

But he was given for the elect.

And of them for whom he was given his death DOES the payment, and brings about the divine intent--the forgiveness of their sins; and their full salvation through reconciliation. Christ's death guarantees the elect's salvation.

Efficacious = "working"
 

Vox Oculi

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm having a difficulty distinguishing between your use of 'efficacious' and the definition of 'sufficient.'

Sufficient = "enough". As in: the supreme value of the death of the Son of God is so intrinsically valuable, of such immense worth, that it is more than enough to have satisfied for an innumerable number of worlds of sinners.

But he was given for the elect.

And of them for whom he was given his death DOES the payment, and brings about the divine intent--the forgiveness of their sins; and their full salvation through reconciliation. Christ's death guarantees the elect's salvation.

Efficacious = "working"

That sounds a lot like what I think I said in my less-creedally-informed philosophical dissertation on the matter in my first response. I believe it accords perfectly with the letter of what you said here, though I don't know if you would necessarily enjoy my language in describing it -- since no one referred back to my comment even once so far. Either that means it's perfectly agreeable or impossible to understand :D !
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If the Canons are read as a system of truth, not ridden like a theological hobby-horse, it will be seen that they do not teach Christ died sufficiently for all, but that Christ's death was efficacious for all for whom He died. Sufficiency only relates to the intrinsic worth of Christ's death. The eighth article under the second head teaches that the death of Christ was the meritorious cause of bestowing justifying faith. That being the case, there can be no true justification and no true justifying faith apart from the confession that Christ "strictly" and efficaciously stood in the place of a "particular" people. This means that strict particularism is necessary to come to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

As for Davenant, one should read his treatise of justification to see if there is anything contradictory to his idea that Christ died sufficiently for all. He teaches Christ has satisfied God the Father for us and has bestowed this satisfaction on us. This encloses the satisfaction of Christ in strict particularism both as to purchase and application. His "sufficiency" teaching is therefore at odds with his teaching on justification.
 
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