Thursday, July 17, 2014

Unbelief, Salvation, Atonement, and God's Glory

Alistair Begg made a comment that got me thinking about the necessity of unlimited atonement in the face of divine election. He pointed out, quite correctly, that it is God who assigns, and consigns, men to hell. (My phrasing). This doesn't minimize the truth that everyone who wants to go to hell does, because hell is a destination freely chosen by men, but it does mean those who choose hell were directed to do so by God's sovereign decree. The reason for this being that if men had the final veto, then man's obduracy would be greater than God's grace. In a sense, man would be sovereign. So God must have condemned them to hell because otherwise He would not be supreme, and His supremacy would not be maximally expressed.

And that fits because we know that God does all things for His glory; His goal is always to maximize the manifestation of His attributes. That's basic Calvinism (or Bible) 101, and it automatically means hell is necessary, because otherwise God could not maximally express His justice and wrath against sin, and it automatically means He sends men there. But it doesn't automatically mean limited atonement is true. "Wait," you say, "if God doing all things for His glory means there must be a hell, and it necessitates it be peopled in specific cases, then shouldn't it also mean Jesus paid only for the sins of those who would be saved?" You would think so, but it doesn't. Just the opposite actually.

For if no atonement was made for the non-elect, then they are in the same boat as the fallen angels-- they aren't going to heaven, and they can't, no matter what they do. No forgiveness is waiting for them because no forgiveness is possible. I'll say it again, God cannot possibly, under any circumstances, or hypothetical considerations, forgive them, because an invincible amount of sin is keeping them from Him. God is literally unable, not merely unwilling to save them. And does that situation maximally express His glory? Absolutely not. His great patience and loving kindness is best seen when every barrier to salvation has been torn down and He beckons sinners earnestly, having paid the price already. His glory is best seen in that there is nothing He has left undone, no hurdle remains to be jumped on His part.

So just as the obduracy of men in the first case means they must not be the ones in the drivers seat or God would be less glorious, so too does it mean the only barrier to their salvation is their own obduracy, lest His glory be lessened. The Calvinist who has their first principles in order must then realize that in some way both things are true, and that the Scriptures wholeheartedly affirms both things together. "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all."
It is appropriate given that apparent contradiction that Paul's next words are what they are.

"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen."

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