3. Christ's Atonement
We are not told why God does not save all mankind when all were equally undeserving, and when the sacrifice on Calvary was that of a Person of infinite value, amply sufficient to save all men had God so desired it. But the Scriptures do tell us that not all will be saved.
However, we can say that the atonement, which was worked out at an enormous cost to God Himself, is His own property, and that He is at liberty to make whatever use of it He chooses. No man has any claim to any part of it. We are told repeatedly that salvation is by grace. And grace is favor shown to the undeserving, even to the ill-deserving. If any part of man's salvation were due to his own good works, then indeed there would be a difference in men, and those who had responded to the gracious offer could justly point the finger of scorn at the lost and say, "You had the same chance that I had. I accepted, but you refused. Therefore you have no excuse." But no. God has so arranged this system that those who are saved can only be eternally grateful that God has saved them.
It is not for us to ask why God does as He does, for the Scripture declares:
"Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou make me thus? Or hath no the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering vessels fitted unto destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy which he afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he also called." (Rom. 9:20-24)
Only the Calvinist seems to take the fall of
man seriously. A proper evaluation of the fall and of man's present hopeless
condition is the missing element in so much of today's thinking, teaching and
preaching. Arminianism seriously errs in assuming that man has sufficient
ability to turn to God if only he will. The Calvinist insists that man is not
merely sick or indisposed or just needs the right incentive, but that he is
spiritually dead, and that the atonement of Christ does not merely make
salvation an abstract possibility such that all men can turn to God if they
The Calvinist holds that the atonement was an objective work accomplished in history which removed all legal barriers against those to whom it was to be applied, and that it would be followed by the work of the Holy Spirit subjectively applying the merits of that atonement to the hearts of those for whom it was divinely intended.
We call attention again to one of the most important verses in Scripture concerning the matter of salvation: "No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him" (John 6:44). Another like it is; "All that the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and he that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). And to the Christians in Corinth, Paul wrote: "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (I Cor. 2:14).
And how does God cause the elect to exercise faith? The answer is: In regeneration the Holy Spirit subdues man's heart to Himself, and imparts to man a new nature which loves righteousness and hates sin. He does not force man against his will, but makes him lovingly and spontaneously obedient to His will. When the Lord Jesus appeared to the hardened persecutor Saul as he was on the way to Damascus, he immediately became obedient to the Lord's will. "Thy people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy power," said the Psalmist (110:3). Thus God gives His people the will to come. That act on God's part, in the sub-conscious nature of the person, is known as regeneration, or as a new birth, or being born again.
When a man is thus given a new nature, he reacts according to that nature, as do all of God's creatures. He then exercises faith and does good works characteristic of repentance as naturally as the grape vine produces grapes. Whereas sin was his natural element, now holiness becomes his natural element - not all at once, for he still has remnants of the old nature clinging to him, and as long as he remains in this world he still is in a sinful environment. But as his new nature is free to express itself he grows in righteousness; he enjoys reading God's Word, praying, and having fellowship with other Christians.
We therefore have to choose between an atonement of high efficiency which is perfectly accomplished, and an atonement of wide extension which is imperfectly accomplished. We cannot have both. If we had both we would have universal salvation. But the Arminian extends the atonement so widely that so far as its actual effect is concerned, it has practically no value other than as an example of unselfish service. Dr. B. B. Warfield used a very simple illustration to present this truth. He said that the atonement is like pie dough - the wider you roll it the thinner it becomes. And the Arminian, in making it apply to all men, reduces its effectiveness to such an extent that it becomes practically no atonement at all.
Furthermore, for God to have laid the sins of all men on Christ would mean that as regards the lost He would be punishing their sins twice, once in Christ, and then again in them. Certainly that would be unjust. If Christ paid their debt, they are free, and the Holy Spirit would invariably bring them to faith and repentance. If the atonement was truly unlimited, it would mean that Christ died for multitudes whose fate already had been determined, who already were in hell at the time He suffered. If the atonement merely nullified the sentence that was against man so as to give him a new chance if he would exercise faith and obedience, it would mean that God was placing him on test again as was his ancestor Adam. But that kind of a test was tried and had its outcome long ago, even in a far more favorable environment. Carried to its logical conclusion, the theory of unlimited atonement leads to absurdity.
We should remember that Christ's suffering in His human nature, as He hung on the cross those six hours, was not primarily physical, but mental and spiritual. When He cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me," He was literally suffering the pangs of hell. For that is essentially what hell is, separation from God, separation from everything that is good and desirable. Such suffering is beyond our comprehension. But since He suffered as a divine-human person, His suffering was a just equivalent for all that His people would have suffered in an eternity in hell.
As a matter of fact, the redeemed man gains more through redemption in Christ than he lost through the fall of Adam. For in the incarnation God literally came into the human race and took human nature upon Himself, which nature Christ in His glorified body will retain forever, and evidently He will be the only visible God that we will see in heaven. Peter tells us that we now are "partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4); and Paul says that we are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). Think of that!
Partakers of the divine nature, and joint-heirs with Christ! What greater blessing could God possibly confer upon us? As such we are superior to the angels, for they are designated in Scripture only as God's messengers, His servants.
Ultimately the Arminian is faced with precisely the same problem as is the Calvinist - that broader problem as to why a God of infinite holiness and power permits sin at all. In our present state of knowledge we can give only a partial answer. But the Calvinist faces up to that problem, acknowledges the Scriptural doctrine that all men had their fair and favorable chance in Adam, that God now graciously saves some of the fallen race while leaving others to go their own chosen sinful way and manifests His justice in their punishment. But having admitted foreknowledge, the Arminianism has no explanation as to why God purposefully and deliberately creates those who He knows will be lost and who will spend eternity in hell.
However, as regards the problem of evil, we can say that God created this world as a theater in which He would display His glory, His marvelous attributes for all of His creatures to see and admire - His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Here we are concerned primarily with His justice. God's justice demands that goodness must be rewarded and that sin must be punished. And it is just as necessary that sin be punished as it is that goodness be rewarded. God would be unjust if He failed to do either. Therefore He created men and angels not as robots who would automatically produce good works as a machine produces bolts or tin cans but who would deserve no rewards, but as free moral agents, in His own image, capable, in Adam before the fall, of choosing between good and evil. He manifests His justice toward those whom He has purposed in grace to save by rewarding them for the good works that are found in Christ their Savior and credited to them, confirming them in holiness, and admitting them into heaven. And He manifests His justice toward those whom He has purposed to by-pass for their willing continuance in sin.
Likewise, if sin had been excluded, there could have been no adequate revelation God's most glorious attributes, grace, mercy, love and holiness, as is displayed in His redemption of sinners. Let us remember that the angels in heaven earned salvation through a covenant of works, by keeping God's law. As in the Case of Adam, they had been promised certain rewards if they obeyed. They did obey, and were confirmed in holiness. They have not experienced salvation by grace.
There is an old hymn which says, "When I sing redemption's story, the angels will fold their wings and listen." And so it will be in the ultimate contrast between men and angels. Hence the explanation of sin is that God permits it, but controls and overrules it for His own glory. If sin had been excluded from the creation those glorious attributes could never have been adequately displayed before His intelligent universe of men and angels, but for the most part would have remained forever hidden in the depths of the divine nature.