Lection Notes for June 20, 2021

The theme for this week is God is supreme.

  • Our call to worship psalm, Psalm 133:1-3, speaks of God’s blessing that even leads to eternal life.
  • The passages in 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 17:57-18:5 and 1 Samuel 18:10-16) show God’s ability to elevate David and give him favor despite the scorn of King Saul. 
  • In Mark 4:35-41, Mark recounts Jesus’ power to rebuke the storm. 
  • In the keynote passage for the sermon, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Paul names the many trials the Lord brought him through as evidence of God’s favor.  


God Reigns Over Hardships 

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Uncle Pete was the beloved old caretaker of a small church in a small town. One day while Uncle Pete was trimming the church’s hedges, a man walked by. The man said, “Excuse me. My name is Michael Jones. My wife and I just moved into town and we are looking for a new church. Can you please tell me about this one?”

Uncle Pete smiled pleasantly and said, “Sure! What was the church you used to attend like?”

The man frowned and said, “I did not like that church at all! The people were annoying and phony. I would have preferred if they kept to themselves. Plus, on Sundays they played weird music. What’s wrong with the old hymns? It was nothing like you would expect church to be.”

Uncle Pete thought for a moment and answered, “This one is pretty much like your old church.” The man shook his head and walked away disappointed.

A little while later, a woman walked by the church and saw Uncle Pete working in the yard. She stopped and said, “Pardon me, Sir. I’m Mary Jones. My husband and I are looking for a new church home. We’re new in town. What’s this church like?”

Uncle Pete smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked! What was the church you used to attend like?”

The woman beamed. “God blessed us with a wonderful church! The people were so friendly and really tried to get to know me. They tried their best to follow Jesus as a family, not just as individuals. Going there stretched me to appreciate people who were different from me. Even the music was different, but I truly felt God in the worship. It was nothing like you would expect church to be.”

Uncle Pete thought for a moment and smiled. “This one is pretty much like your old church.” The woman thanked Uncle Pete and ran to tell her husband.


This story shows how our perspective reveals our reality. The husband and wife saw the same church in very different ways. Because of his perspective and attitude, the husband would likely never find a church that satisfied him. He prioritized his preferences over following the leading of God. Yet, the wife would likely see God everywhere because she trusted that he was the giver of good things. How we experience our lives depends on what we believe about God, ourselves, and the world around us. Our perspective also determines the extent to which Jesus can be the Lord of our lives. In his second letter to believers in Corinth, Paul sets an example of how to have a proper perspective on God, himself, and others. He writes:

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:1-13)

Let’s review some of the bad things Paul experienced in ministry—situations that had to be endured—troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonor, false claims, false accusations, being ignored, near death experiences, more beatings, sorrow, and poverty. Ah, the glamorous life of ministry! Imagine if these things happened to you because of your job? Would you continue to do that job? For some, there is no option. For others, a job search might be in order. For ministry? Honestly, I would love to put on my most pious face and tell you, “Yes, if God willed it so.” However, I fear I might not have the same character as Paul. Unless I am a boxer, I can’t imagine tolerating being regularly beaten as part of my job. It would take the work of the Holy Spirit to help me stay completely focused on Jesus and on moving forward in ministry.

Not only did Paul continue to participate in ministry despite the awful things that happened to him, but he spoke boldly about how God blessed him and brought him through his trials. For each negative thing that happened, Paul presented something God did to not only counteract the bad thing, but completely overshadow it. God’s activity was Paul’s reality, which helped the actions of humans against him to fade to the background. Paul used his story to encourage the church in Corinth to open their hearts to God—the one who can bring them through the trials they are facing.

Notice how he started this passage:

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

Paul considered himself and other believers as recipients of God’s grace and favor. Christ and his redemptive work was the lens through which Paul saw himself and the world. Paul considered himself already blessed and already favored. God’s favor was not something that came or went or was something for which Paul was waiting. Because of Christ, God’s favor was a permanent possession. Paul’s truth and reality was founded upon God’s goodness and grace. Negative experiences did not alter Paul’s belief in God’s character or his own blessedness. How easy it would have been for Paul, after he was stoned and left for dead, to find reasons to distrust God? Yet, in this passage Paul uses his hardships to affirm God’s righteousness.

I wish I could say the same thing. Too often, when I experience what I perceive as a trial or tragedy, I am reflexively tempted to diminish God in my own eyes. It is easy to believe him to be less loving, good, and concerned about me than I previously thought. Hard times can cause me to doubt my calling and purpose in the Lord. I can, at times, be that rudderless ship, cast to and fro by the wind and the waves. Part of the reason for this is that I give my feelings too much power.

We are wired to interpret pain and discomfort as “bad.” In many cases, this works in our favor. If I touch a hot stove, I experience pain, letting me know that something harmful is happening. In that case, pain works in my favor. However, getting a shot also causes me pain (especially since I hate needles), yet shots can be beneficial. In that case, pain does not work in my favor by implying something is bad. In the same way, a situation that causes us pain or discomfort does not indicate God is allowing something “bad” to happen. We have to develop the humility to resist being the interpreter of our story, deciding what is “good” and what is “bad.” Instead, we should seek God’s help in understanding the things that happen to us, trusting him with our very lives.

When it comes to God, it seems like we always find what we are looking for. If we are looking for a god who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, we will find him, despite our circumstances. Similarly, if we are looking for a god who is cruel, untrustworthy, distant, and oppressive, we will find him, despite evidence to the contrary. This is our curse from the time of the fall of humanity—our ability to see God and fellow humans clearly is greatly diminished. After sinning by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve did two things: they hid themselves from each other by covering themselves, and they hid themselves from God. Two beings who had never known shame saw something unseemly in what was once beautiful. The man and woman, who had walked and talked with God in loving communion, now saw him as someone to be feared. The first casualty of corruption was Adam and Eve’s vision—how they saw God and how they saw themselves. Therefore, we cannot trust how we interpret pain because our vision is corrupted. We must rely on the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to lead us into all truth, individually and collectively.

Our perspective is closely related to our faith. In fact, perspective is how we see things as a result of our faith. Faith is a relational term, rooted and grounded in who God is, as revealed by Jesus Christ. We Christians need to pay attention to our perspective, because it indicates who we believe God to be. If we tend to be negative and expect the worst in people, this says something about who we believe God to be. Likewise, if we tend to be hopeful and willing to extend others the benefit of the doubt, this also says something else about who we believe God to be. I am not saying that we should walk through life with proverbial rose-colored glasses, avoiding anything negative. If something is not good, we should not pretend that it is good. However, those who see God clearly will find hope in Christ in the most desperate of situations. Those who see God clearly will be able to access joy in the midst of tragedy. Those who see God clearly will feel his love in the face of persecution. God is that good! Paul was able to see God’s favor during his suffering because his faith would not allow him to do otherwise.

Even more important than what we believe about God is what he believes about us. From the moment God created humanity, he called us “good.” He determined that we were worthy of adoption in Christ, and he has not wavered from that belief, despite us providing mountains of evidence to the contrary. Christ put on human flesh because God believed we were worth saving. It is God’s beliefs about us that makes new life in Christ possible. We are changed and transformed because of what God believes about us. As Christians, it is essential that we regularly hear what God believes about us. Paul said that faith comes by hearing God’s message about Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17). Hearing God’s beliefs regarding humanity builds our faith, which shapes our perspective. In this way, Jesus and his work on the cross should be the lens through which we view all things.

How we view the world matters. I encourage us to look to Jesus so our vision can be clear. When we do that, we will see that God reigns over any hardship that can come our way. Looking through the cross, God becomes supreme in every moment, therefore, every moment, good and bad, will be sacred.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What in creation reminds you that God is supreme?
  • What helps you feel God’s presence?
  • Why do you think Paul shared all of those terrible experiences with the church in Corinth?
  • To you, what is the connection between faith and our perspective?
  • What are some ways that you encounter God’s message about Jesus Christ?


From the DSB series of commentaries … by William Barclay, a Scottish theologian …


2 Cor.5:20-6:2

So then we are acting as ambassadors on Christ’s behalf, for God is sending you his invitation through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made him who had no acquaintance with sin to be sin for us, that through him we might become the righteousness of God. Because we are trying to help him to win men, we urge you not to have received the offer of the grace of God all to no purpose. (For scripture says, “At an accepted time I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Lo! Now is the accepted time. Lo! Now is the day of salvation).

The office that Paul claims as his one glory and his one task is that of ambassador for Christ. The Greek he uses (presbeutes, compare GSN4246) is a great word. It had two uses corresponding with the Latin word of which it is a translation (legatus).

  1. Roman provinces were divided into two types. One was under the direct control of the senate, the other under the direct control of the Emperor. The distinction was made on this basis–provinces which were peaceful and had no troops in them were senatorial provinces; provinces which were turbulent and had troops stationed in them were imperial provinces. In the imperial provinces, the man who administered the province on behalf of the Emperor, was the legatus presbeutai. So then, the word in the first place paints a picture of a man who has a direct commission from the Emperor; and Paul regarded himself as commissioned by Jesus Christ for the work of the Church.
  2.  But presbeutes (compare GSN4246) and legatus have an even more interesting meaning. When the Roman senate decided that a country should become a province they sent to it ten legati or presbeutai, that is, envoys, of their own number, who, along with the victorious general, arranged the terms of peace with the vanquished people, determined the boundaries of the new province, drew up a constitution for its new administration, and then returned to submit what they had done for ratification by the senate. They were the men responsible for bringing others into the family of the Roman Empire. So Paul thinks of himself as the man who brings to others the terms of God, whereby they can become citizens of his empire and members of his family.

There is no more responsible position than that of ambassador.

  • (i) An ambassador of Britain is a Briton in a foreign land. His life is spent among people who usually speak a different language, who have a different tradition and who follow a different way of life. The Christian is always like that. He lives in the world; he takes part in all the life and work of the world; but he is a citizen of heaven. To that extent he is a stranger. The man who is not willing to be different cannot be a Christian at all.
  • (ii) An ambassador speaks for his own country. When a British ambassador speaks, his voice is the voice of Britain. There are times when the Christian has to speak for Christ. In the decisions and the counsels of the world his must be the voice which brings the message of Christ to the human situation.
  • (iii) The honour of a country is in its ambassador’s hands. His country is judged by him. His words are listened to, his deeds are watched and people say, “That is the way such-and-such a country speaks and acts.” Lightfoot, the great Bishop of Durham, said in an ordination address, “The ambassador, while acting, acts not only as an agent, but as a representative of his sovereign…. The ambassador’s duty is not only to deliver a definite message, to carry out a definite policy; but he is obliged to watch opportunities, to study characters, to cast about for expedients, so that he may place it before his hearers in its most attractive form.” It is the great responsibility of the ambassador to commend his country to the men amongst whom he is set.

Here is the Christian’s proud privilege and almost terrifying responsibility. The honour of Christ and of the Church are in his hands. By his every word and action he can make men think more-or-less of his Church and of his Master.

We have to note Paul’s message. “Be reconciled to God.” The New Testament never speaks of God being reconciled to men, but always of men being reconciled to God. There is no question of pacifying an angry God. The whole process of salvation takes its beginning from him. It was because God so loved the world that he sent his son. It is not that God is estranged from man but that man is estranged from him. God’s message, the message which Paul brought, is an appeal from a loving Father to wandering and estranged children to come home where love is waiting for them.

Paul beseeches them not to accept the offer of the grace of God all to no purpose. There is such a thing — and it is eternity’s tragedy — as the frustration of grace. Let us think of the matter in human terms. Suppose that a father sacrifices and toils to give his son every chance, surrounds him with love, plans for his future with care, and does everything humanly possible to equip him for life. And suppose the son feels no debt of gratitude, never feels the obligation to repay by being worthy of all this; and suppose he fails, not because he has not the ability, but because he will not try, because he forgets the love that gave him so much. That is what breaks a father’s heart. When God gives men all his grace and they take their own foolish way and frustrate that grace which might have recreated them, once again Christ is crucified and the heart of God is broken.


2 Cor.6:3-10

We do our work, trying to put an obstacle in no man’s way, for we do not wish the ministry to become a laughing stock for critics. But in everything we try to keep on commending ourselves as ministers of God must do–in much endurance, amidst the things which press sore upon us, in the inescapable pains of life, in anxieties, amidst stripes, in prisons, in tumults, in toils, in sleepless nights, in fastings, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the declaration of the truth, in the power of God, with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, in honour and in dishonour, in ill report and in good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and lo! we live; as chastened, but not killed; as grieved, but always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.

In all the chances and changes of life Paul had only one concern — to show himself a sincere and profitable minister of Jesus Christ. Even as he made that claim, his mind’s eye went back across what Chrysostom called “the blizzard of troubles” through which he had come and through which he was still struggling. Every word in this tremendous catalogue, which someone has called “the hymn of the herald of salvation,” has its background in Paul’s adventurous life.

He begins with one triumphant word of the Christian life — endurance (hupomone, GSN5281). It is untranslatable. It does not describe the frame of mind which can sit down with folded hands and bowed head and let a torrent of troubles sweep over it in passive resignation. It describes the ability to bear things in such a triumphant way that it transfigures them. Chrysostom has a great panegyric on this hupomone (GSN5281). He calls it “the root of all goods, the mother of piety, the fruit that never withers, a fortress that is never taken, a harbour that knows no storms” and “the queen of virtues, the foundation of right actions, peace in war, calm in tempest, security in plots.” It is the courageous and triumphant ability to pass the breaking-point and not to break and always to greet the unseen with a cheer. It is the alchemy which transmutes tribulation into strength and glory.

Paul goes on to speak of three groups, each of three things, in which this victorious endurance is practised.

(i) There are the internal conflicts of the Christian life.

(a) The things which press sore upon us. The word he uses is thlipsis (GSN2347) which originally expressed sheer, physical pressure on a man. There are things which weigh down a man’s spirit like the sorrows which are a burden on his heart and the disappointments which are like to crush the life out of him. The triumphant endurance can cope with them all.

(b) The inescapable pains of life. The Greek word (anagke, GSN0318) literally means the necessities of life. Certain burdens a man may escape, but others are inescapable. There are certain things which a man must bear. The greatest of these are sorrow, for only the life which has never known love will never know that, and death which is the lot of every man. The triumphant endurance enables a man to face all that is involved in being a man.

(c) Anxieties. The word Paul uses (stenochoria, GSN4730) literally means a too narrow place. It might be used of an army caught in a narrow, rocky defile with space neither to manoeuvre nor to escape. It might be used of a ship caught in a storm with no room either to ride it or to run before it. There are moments when a man seems to be in a situation in which the walls of life are closing round him. Even then the triumphant endurance makes him able to breathe the spaciousness of heaven.

(ii) There are the external tribulations of life.

(a) Stripes. For Paul the Christian life meant not only spiritual suffering, but also physical suffering. It is the simple fact that if there had not been those who were ready and able to bear the torture of the fire and the wild beasts we would not be Christian today. There are still some for whom it is physical agony to be a Christian; and it is always true that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

(b) Prisons. Clement of Rome tells us that Paul was in prison no fewer than seven times. From Acts we know that before he wrote to the Corinthians he was in prison in Philippi, and afterwards in Jerusalem, in Caesarea and in Rome. The pageant of Christians who were imprisoned stretches from the first to the twentieth century. There have always been those who would abandon their liberty sooner than abandon their faith.

(c) Tumults. Over and over again we have the picture of the Christian facing, not the sternness of the law, but the violence of the mob. John Wesley tells us of what happened to him in Wednesbury when the mob came “pouring down like a flood.” “To attempt speaking was vain; for the noise on every side was like the roaring of the sea. So they dragged me along till we came to the town; when, seeing the door of a large house open, I attempted to go in; but a man, catching me by the hair, pulled me back into the middle of the crowd. They made no more stop till they had carried me through the main street, from one end of the town to the other.” George Foxe tells us of what happened to him at Tickhill. “I found the priest and most of the chief of the parish together in the chancel. So I went up to them and began to speak, but immediately they fell upon me; the clerk took up the Bible as I was speaking, and struck me on the face with it, so that it gushed out with blood, and I bled exceedingly in the steeple-house. Then the people cried, `Let us have him out of the Church’; and when they had got me out they beat me exceedingly, and threw me down, and over a hedge; and afterwards they dragged me through a house into the street, stoning an beating me as they drew me along, so that I was besmeared all over with blood and dirt…. Yet when I was got upon my legs again I declared to them the word of life and shewed them the fruits of their teachers, how they dishonoured Christianity.” The mob has often been the enemy of Christianity; but nowadays it is not the violence but the mockery or the amused contempt of the crowd against which the Christian must stand fast.

(iii) There is the effort of the Christian life.

(a) Toils. The word Paul uses (kopos, GSN2873) is in the New Testament almost a technical term for the Christian life. It describes toil to the point of sheer exhaustion, the kind of toil which takes everything of body, mind and spirit that a man has to give. The Christian is the workman of God.

(b) Sleepless nights. Some would be spent in prayer, some in a situation of peril or discomfort where sleep was impossible. At all times Paul was ready to be the unsleeping sentinel of Christ.

(c) Fastings. No doubt what Paul means here is not deliberately chosen fastings, but times when he went hungry for the work’s sake. We may well contrast with his spirit the spirit of the man who would not miss a meal to attend the worship of the house of God.

Now Paul turns away from the trials and the tribulations, which endurance enabled him to conquer, to his own God-given equipment for the Christian life. Once again he retains the same arrangement of three groups of three items.

(i) There are the God-given qualities of mind.

(a) Purity. The word Paul uses (hagnotes, GSN0054) was defined by the Greeks as “the careful avoidance of all sins which are against the gods; the service of the honour of God as nature demands”, as “prudence at its highest tension” and as “freedom from every stain of flesh and spirit.” It is in fact the quality which enables a man to enter into the very presence of God.

(b) Knowledge. This kind of knowledge has been defined as “knowledge of the things that must be done.” It was the knowledge which issued not in the theologian’s fine-spun subtleties but in the actions of the Christian man.

(c) Patience. Usually in the New Testament this word (makrothumia, GSN3115) denotes patience with people, the ability to bear with them even when they are wrong, even when they are cruel and insulting. It is a great word. In First Maccabees it is said (1Macc.8:4) that the Romans conquered the world by “their policy and their patience” and there the word expresses that Roman unconquerableness which would never make peace under defeat. Patience is the quality of a man who may lose a battle but who will never admit defeat in a campaign.

(ii) There are the God-given qualities of heart.

(a) Kindness. Kindness (chrestotes, GSN5544) is one of the great New Testament words. It is the very opposite of severity. One great commentator describes it as “the sympathetic kindliness or sweetness of temper which puts others at their ease and shrinks from giving pain.” The great example is in Gen.26:17-22 which tells how Isaac would not fight or strive. It is the quality which thinks far more of others than of itself.

(b) The Holy Spirit. Paul knew well that no useful word could be spoken nor any good deed done without the help of the Holy Spirit. But the phrase may well mean not the Holy Spirit, but a spirit of holiness. It may mean that Paul’s dominating motive was one which was holy, one which was directed solely towards the honour and service of God.

(c) Unfeigned love. The word Paul uses is agape GSN0026), which is a characteristic New Testament word. It means unconquerable benevolence. It means that spirit which, no matter what anyone else does to it, will never seek anything but the other person’s highest good, will never dream of revenge, but will meet all injuries and rebuffs with undefeatable good will.

(iii) There is the God-given equipment for the work of preaching the gospel.

(a) The declaration of the truth. Paul knew that Jesus had not only given him a gospel to proclaim but the strength and the ability to proclaim it. To God he owed both the word and the door of utterance that had been opened for it.

(b) The power of God. To Paul this was everything. It was the only power he had. It was said of Henry the Fifth after the battle of Agincourt, “Neither would he suffer any ditties to be made and sung by the minstrels of his glorious victory, for that he would wholly have the praise and thanks altogether given to God.” Paul would never have said in pride, “I did this,” but always in humility, “God enabled me to do it.”

(c) The weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left. This means the weapons for defence and for attack. The sword or the spear was carried in the right hand and the shield on the left arm; and Paul is saying that God has given him the power to attack his task and to defend himself from his temptations.

Paul completes this lyrical passage with a series of contrasts.  He begins with …

  • in honour and in dishonour. The word he uses for dishonour is normally used in Greek for loss of rights as a citizen (atimia, GSN0819). Paul says, “I may have lost all the rights and privileges which the world can confer but I am still a citizen of the Kingdom of God.”
  • In ill-repute and in good-repute. There are those who criticize his every action and who hate his very name, but his fame with God is sure.
  • Deceivers and yet true. The Greek word (planos, GSN4108) literally means a wandering quack and impostor. That is what others call him but he knows that his message is God’s truth.
  • Unknown yet well known. The Jews who slandered him said he was a no-account nobody whom no one had ever heard of, yet to those to whom he had brought Christ he was known with gratitude.
  • Dying, and lo! we live. Danger was his companion and the prospect of death his comrade, and yet by the grace of God he was triumphantly alive with a life that death could never kill.
  • Chastened, but not killed. Things happened to him that might have chastened any man’s spirit but they could not kill the spirit of Paul.
  • Grieved, but always rejoicing. Things happened that might have broken any man’s heart but they could not destroy Paul’s joy.
  • Poor, yet making many rich. He might seem to be penniless but he brought with him that which would enrich the souls of men.
  • Having nothing, yet possessing all things. He might seem to have nothing, but, having Christ, he had everything that mattered in this world and the next.



2 Cor.6:11-13 and 2 Cor.7:2-4

My dear Corinthians, we have spoken to you without keeping anything back. Our heart lies wide open to you. If there is any constraint between us, it lies, not in us, but in your hearts. Give me fair exchange. I speak as to children. Do you, too, open wide your hearts to us…. Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one. We have corrupted no one. We have taken advantage of no one. I am not speaking with any intention of condemnation. I have already told you that you are in our hearts, so that I am ready to die with you and to live with you. I have every confidence in you. I know that I can boast much about you. My comfort is complete. I am overflowing with joy amidst all the things that press sore upon me.

We have here taken together 2 Cor.6:11-13 and 2 Cor.7:2-4, for the moment omitting 2 Cor.6:14 to 2 Cor.7:1. The reason will become clear when we deal with the latter passage.

Paul is speaking with the accents of purest love. The breaches are healed. The quarrels are all made up and love reigns supreme. The phrase that we have translated “Our heart lies wide open to you,” literally means, “Our heart is enlarged.” Chrysostom has a fine comment. He says that heat makes all things expand and the warmth of love will always expand a man’s heart.

In the King James Version in 2 Cor.6:12 we note a translation which is very common in the New Testament and not very fortunate, “Ye are straitened in your own bowels.” The word translated bowels is the Greek word splagchna (GSN4698). It literally means the upper viscera, the heart, the liver and the lungs. In these organs the seat of the emotions was supposed to lie. The form of expression sounds awkward but it is not really any more curious than our own English form. We speak of a man being melancholy which literally means that he has a black liver. We put the seat of love in the heart, which, after all, is a physical organ. But in English idiom it is more natural to use the word heart than bowels.

Paul here makes a great series of claims. He has wronged no one, he has corrupted no one, he has taken advantage of no one. Towards the end of his life Sir Walter Scott made the great claim, “I have unsettled no man’s faith, I have corrupted no man’s principles.” Thackeray, also towards the end of his life, wrote a prayer in which he prayed that he “might never write a word inconsistent with the love of God, or the love of man, might never propagate has own prejudices or pander to those of others, might always speak the truth with his pen, and might never be actuated by a love of greed.”

Only one thing is worse than sinning oneself, ant[ that is teaching another to sin. It is one of the grim truths of life that another must always present a person with his first temptation, must give him the first push into sin, and it is a terrible thing to introduce a younger or a weaker brother to the wrong thing.

Someone tells of an old man who on his death-bed seemed distressed by something. When asked what was the matter he said that, when he was a boy, he and some companions had been playing at a cross-roads in the middle of a common. There was a signpost there and it was loose in its socket. They turned it round so that its arms were facing in the wrong directions. And the old man said, “I cannot stop wondering how many people were sent on the wrong road by the thing we did that day.”

There can be no regret like the regret of having sent another on the wrong way. It was Paul’s proud claim that his guidance and his influence had always been towards the best.

He finishes this passage by telling the Corinthians how complete his comfort is and how overflowing his joy even although at the moment troubles are all around him. Surely there never was a clearer proof that human relationships are the most important thing in life. If a man is happy at home, he can face up to anything outside. If a man is in fellowship with his friends, he can withstand the slings and arrows of fortune with a smile. As the writer of the Proverbs has it, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it.” (Prov.15:17).


Calvinism 03 

Limited Atonement 

Payment or Possibility? 


“I had rather believe a Limited Atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than a universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody…” ~ Charles Spurgeon


Many Christians are familiar with the acronym T.U.L.I.P. – tulip – as shorthand for Reformed or Calvinistic theology.  And there can be no doubt that the most controversial and misunderstood of all the so-called five points of Calvinism is found in the concept that is framed by the letter “L”: “Limited Atonement!”  When used to explain the work of Jesus on the cross, many believers respond with indignation.  It’s as if Calvinists are somehow downgrading — or limiting — what the Lord accomplished at Calvary.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s important, when we use the language, to remind our Arminian friends that both views, in some sense, limit the atonement.  We limit its intent.  They limit its power.

The Calvinists believed that the atoning work of Christ was limited only to the elect.  The cross purchased and guaranteed everything the elect sinner needs to be justified: including regeneration (or the new birth), faith and repentance unto salvation.

The Arminians, on the other hand, believed that Jesus’ work on the cross was not designed to purchase a specific people for Himself.  Nor was it to secure salvation for any particular sinner.  The intention was to simply make salvation “possible” for any person who would, of his or her own free will, repent and believe.

You know, we would expect that the idea of God choosing would be offensive to the rebellious human soul.  But even more so in our culture where free will and “I’ll have it my way” is almost at an idolatrous level.  So it’s not surprising to me that people are offended by the idea of God’s sovereign choice in this generation.

Dr. Loraine Boettner, author of the book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, explains that: “…the Arminian view of the atonement can be compared to a wide bridge that extends most of the way across a river.” ~ Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 153

In order to reach the other side, the sinner must take the last and final step.  The Calvinists, on the other hand, believed that the bridge, while narrow, did in fact extend all the way to the other shore.  The sinner does not and CANNOT take any steps.  Regeneration is the rapture, if you will, of the sinner from one kingdom to the other, and it’s the work of Christ alone.

The Synod of Dort asserted that the fundamental flaw of the Arminian view of the atonement goes back to their defective view of the fall of man into sin.  John Owen, in his classic work The Death of Death in the Death of Christ observed that:

“…[T]he merit [or atonement] of Christ was [to the Arminian]…an ointment in a box … set out in the Gospel to the view of all, [and] those who will, by their own strength, lay hold on it and apply it to themselves [would] be healed.” ~ Owen, John, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh, Scotland; Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth Trust 1984), fourth printing pg. 38

Of course, if man were simply wounded by the Fall, this position would be reasonable.  However, as we saw earlier, man is not merely wounded, — he’s dead!  And medicine to a dead man, as the old adage goes, is the supreme example of “a day late and a dollar short.”  Man needs much more than medicine to resurrect his dead spirit.  He needs the Holy Spirit to bring him back to life!

This next point can get a little confusing, so try and pay close attention as we distinguish between historic and modern Arminianism.  To illustrate the historical Arminian position as presented by the Remonstrants, consider this quote by Dr. J. Kenneth Grider, professor of Theology at the Nazarene Theological Seminary, a school that is self-consciously Arminian:

“… [M]any Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins.  Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism, which teaches instead that Christ suffered for us.  Arminians teach that what Christ did He did for every person; therefore what He did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition [punishment].” ~ Elwell, Walter A. Editor Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Book House 1984), page 80

Dr. Grider is rightfully scolding his fellow Arminians for being inconsistent in their understanding of the design and purpose of Jesus’ work on Calvary.  In summary, Dr. Grider says:

  1. Most modern Arminians do not know the teachings of historic Arminianism as represented by the Remonstrants;
  2. Historic Arminianism believes that what Jesus did, He did for everyone equally, and;
  3. Historic Arminianism as expressed in the Remonstrants does not teach that Christ died or paid for anyone’s sins. He only suffered for them.

Concerning the first point, it’s true that most Arminians today don’t understand historical Arminianism very well and this does create some confusion as to precisely what the term means.

As for the second point: Does the Bible teach that what Jesus did, He did equally for everyone?

Arminians use as their proof texts passages that include the words “all”, “whole” and “world” in relation to God’s intentions in salvation, interpreting it to mean every single person.  But does “all” mean “all” all the time?

The Bible uses these universal terms, but many people don’t understand, its not merely the Biblical use of terms like this, but in all language, in all of English language, it is constantly done that people use universal terms when they don’t mean a universal fact that they’re talking about.  I mean, we all say that all the time.  We all say “all” when we don’t mean “all”. For example the Bible says,

“…a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that ALL the world should be taxed.”  ~ Luke 2:1

No it didn’t.  You’re either going to have to realize that that is figurative language, or you would have to say the Bible is in error. How much were the people in the Yucatan Peninsula taxed? How about the Chinese? How much taxes did they pay to Caesar?  Did a decree go out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed? In actuality it never did. It went out that all of the Roman world should be taxed.

Another example can be found in Luke 2:10. We read that the angel who announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds declared,

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to ALL PEOPLE.” ~ Luke 2:10

Should the word “all” be understood to mean “every single person” or was he speaking of all people in the sense of ethnicity? If you believe the former then we must ask if the birth of Christ brought “good tidings of great joy” to the Pharisees. How about to Herod or Pontius Pilate? Did they find great joy in the birth of the Messiah?

And what about Colossians 1:5,6? Paul declares that by 54 A.D. the truth of the Gospel has gone out into “ALL THE WORLD.”

“…because of the hope that is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world…” ~ Colossians 1:5,6

Did Paul literally mean that the Gospel had been carried to the Americas or Australia?  Of course not! Geography wasn’t what he was speaking about.  And the same is true for John 12:19:

“The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!’” ~ John 12:19

We all say “all” all of the time when we don’t mean it.  No we don’t! Some people never say “all.”  They speak Chinese.  You don’t say “all” all of the time.  Either when you mean it or when you don’t mean it. There are sometimes that you sleep.  There are sometimes that you eat.  There are sometimes when you say other things.  You really don’t say “all” all of the time. Do you?  And so, therefore, these people don’t understand the figurative use of language. There are almost over six hundred different species of figures of speech found in the Bible.  And they are found in most any large novel, or even in a big newspaper you will find them.  They are everywhere! No they’re not. They’re not everywhere. They’re here and there and the other place. You see we do that all the time and we don’t even realize that we are doing

No we don’t do it all the time. You see if I called you every time you used a universal word and you didn’t mean it universally, I would be having to stop you all the time. No I wouldn’t!

The fact is that we all use this type of hyperbole, well, “all” the time. Newscasters refer to “the whole city” turning out to greet a World Championship team when what they technically mean is a very large crowd.  We talk about the entire world being fixated upon the news of Princess Diana’s death.  On and on it goes.  Well, if that’s true for us, might not the same principle apply when we find similar expressions used in Scripture? The simple fact is that most scholars would suggest that it’s even more true — that hyperbolic speech was very common within the Hebrew culture.

This is not to say that the words “all,” “world,” and “whole world” in the Bible can never be taken to mean every single person or thing. In some cases, they can.  But how we understand these words — like virtually every other word in the Bible — is based upon the context, when and to whom they were written, and then compared to other Scriptures.

The verse quoted most often to prove what Jesus did He did for every single person is perhaps the most well-known and loved passage in the whole world. John 3:16 states:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” ~ John 3:16

In their universalistic interpretation of this verse, the Arminian fails to take into account when and to whom the Lord was speaking. They ignore the historical context — that a young Jewish rabbi was addressing a culture obsessed with race and ethnicity; that, while the occasional Gentile might somehow find his way into the Kingdom of God, it was to the physical descendents of Abraham that salvation really belonged.

We need to understand the Jewish mindset was that a Messiah was going to come, and this was a Messiah of and for the Jews. And it never dawned on a Jewish mind that their Messiah was going to pay for the sins of a Roman. I mean these people needed to be destroyed and abolished and thrown out. Not redeemed and saved and taken to Heaven. This was almost an unthinkable thing. And so when John, on several different occasions said that He is the propitiation not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world, he is talking about the amazing thing is that a Messiah has come which is going to pay for the sins of the people in Israel and also for the people in all other countries in the world. The great Baptist scholar, John Gill, echoes this interpretation,

“Now, in opposition to such a notion, our Lord addresses this Jew [Nicodemus]; and it is as if He had said, you (Nicodemus) say, that when the Messiah comes, only the Israelites, the peculiar favorites of God, shall share in the blessings that come by, and with [the Messiah]; and that the Gentiles shall reap no advantage by Him, being hated of God, and rejected of Him: but I tell you, God has so loved the Gentiles, as well as the Jews…” ~ Gill, John D.D., Gill’s Expositor, (Streamwood, IL.: Baptist Library 1976), Volume IX, pg. 189)

Besides, if “the world” always means every single person, then the Arminians have a problem when he they get to verses like 1 John 2:15:

“If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” ~ 1 John 2:15

If consistent, Arminians should read this as saying: “If anyone loves every single person, the love of the Father is not in him.”  But this interpretation would contradict the express admonition that we are to love everybody, even our enemies.  Phrases like “all,” “all men,” and “whole world,” were used by the writers of the New Testament to correct the Jewish mindset that the Messiah was coming to save them, meaning the physical descendants of Abraham alone. The writers used these words to show that Christ came to save all men without distinction of nationality or race; that Jesus died for Jews and Gentiles alike. These words were not used to suggest that He died for every single person without exception.

So the next question would be: Are there any passages that would seem to limit the extent of the atonement to less than every single person? And the answer to that question is an unqualified “Yes!

In Isaiah 53 we read, “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.  By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify MANY, for He shall bear their iniquities.” ~ Isaiah 53:11

And again in verse 12:

“He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of MANY, and made intercession for the transgressors.” ~ Isaiah 53:12

Notice that the word is not “all”, but “many”! No matter how one slices it, the word “many” cannot mean “every single person.”

In a previous section we noted the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 20:16:

“Many are called, but few are chosen.” ~ Matthew 20:16

Twelve verses later Jesus, using the same language found in Isaiah 53, states concerning the scope of His atoning work:

“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for MANY.” ~ Matthew 20:28

Here the Messiah plainly states His ultimate mission: to offer His life as a ransom — as the price paid to deliver somebody from slavery, death and imprisonment. And is this ransom on behalf of everyone? Well, Jesus said that it is for the benefit of many.

Revelation 5:9 reads,

“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation…’” ~ Revelation 5:9

You know what we often hear is that God redeemed every tribe, tongue and nation. But what it says in Revelation 5:9 is that He redeemed out of every tribe and tongue and nation, which emphasizes more His sovereign choice within the broader people group of the earth.

Let’s look at one last verse like this before we move on. In John’s Gospel, Jesus declares:

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” ~ John 10:11

Once again, the Messiah is referring to the atonement, the paying of the ransom, and He states that He does it on behalf of His sheep. Many of the Jews who heard this teaching declared that Jesus was mad and had a demon. Later, they caught up with Him and asked,

“How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” ~ John 10:24

Jesus replies,

“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep.” ~ John 10:25 & 26

J.P. Boyce, founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention, notes:

  1. The sheep here are those to whom He will give eternal life.
  2. They are those for whom He lays down His life.
  3. They are not all, because He tells those who were rejecting Him that they were not His sheep.
  4. The whole language used implies that the salvation of the sheep alone is the object for which His life is laid down.

And in John 10, Jesus did not say, “I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down my life for the wolves, goats and sheep.” He said, “I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down my life for the sheep that they might have life. “

That when Jesus was hanging upon the cross He was particularly dying for specific people.  All those whom the Father had given to Him were on his heart.  And He was laying down His life, shedding His blood for them.  He was substituting Himself for them, His life for theirs, paying for their sins. This is what He meant when He talked about His sheep. He said I lay down My life for My sheep.  And in the same chapter John 10 He turns to the Pharisees and says, “You don’t believe because you are not My sheep.” Jesus specifically substitutes Himself for God’s elect and those are the ones that will be saved by His death.”  Invariably, the Arminian will counter at this point with one of their favorite proof texts:

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that ALL should come to repentance.” ~ 2 Peter 3:9

Once again, it ALL comes down to ALL.  Does this passage mean that God longs for every person to be saved and therefore that Jesus died for everyone so that at least his or her salvation is a possibility?  Or does ALL here refer to every person within a particular category of humanity?

Peter is talking about the people to whom he is writing.  Us!  What he is saying is that God is not willing that any of US should perish, that is why He delays these things to make it absolutely certain that all of US come to repentance and receive the benefits of salvation.  Well, then you have to ask further who is the US?  And, again, if you look, the people to whom both First and Second Peter is addressed, are whom?

The elect! Peter goes out of his way to call the recipients of his letter the elect. And so what he is saying is that God is not willing that any of His elect would perish. Rather than defeating Calvinism this is one of the strongest Calvinistic passages that I think we can find anywhere in Scripture.

There’s a very similar passage of Scripture to which the Arminian also appeals:

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ~ I Timothy 2:3-4

What Paul is doing in that passage; he is defending his ministry to the Gentiles. He said, “He appointed me as an apostle and a teacher to the Gentiles, I am telling the truth, I’m not lying.” And in justification of his ministry to the Gentiles he is emphasizing that the ransom of Christ is for all, not just the Jews, but for the Gentiles also.

Another favorite passage often quoted by Arminians is found in the Second Epistle of Peter:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.”  ~ 2 Peter 2:1

Focusing on the phrase “even denying the Lord who bought them” many modern-day Arminians teach that Christ’s work on Calvary purchased salvation for everyone, even for those who end up in Hell.

John Owen would argue that this not only does not refer to Jesus, it does not refer to His act of purchasing redemption for the elect on the cross.  That which is bought falls short of the purchase of redemption because there is nothing here about the blood of Christ, nothing here about the atonement, nothing here about the purchase of redemption. Those are things that we add into the text.  It is important to note that the word for “Lord” is not the common word used in relation to Jesus, “kurious.”  It is the Greek word “despotes” from which we get the English word despot. Its meaning is Sovereign Master, Creator or Ruler, and conveys the idea of “owner.” The Greek word for “bought”, “agorazo”, in connection with “despotes” implies the Lord’s de facto right of ownership as Creator. Peter is not teaching a universal or general atonement. In fact, he is not teaching about the atonement of Christ at all.  What he is saying is that these false teachers are denying the Lord God, their Creator, who made them, and as the Creator owns them. If one maintains that Jesus purchased salvation for every single person — that what He did He did for every person equally — then one would naturally expect that Jesus would pray for everyone. Note again the great care and saving power Jesus has towards those for whom He died.

“Therefore (because Christ continues forever as the unchangeable High Priest) 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

But does Jesus pray for everyone? In what is commonly referred to as the “high priestly prayer” in the 17th chapter of John, the Son of God intercedes before the Father,

“I pray for them (those whom the Father had given Him). I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.” ~ John 17:9

Jesus explicitly states that He does not pray for every single person, rather only those whom the Father had given Him. In fact, we would do well to carefully consider a few of the preceding verses, noting particularly the words we have set in bold:

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him … I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.  They were Yours, You gave them to Me … I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours’.” ~ John 17:1,2,6,9

Let’s now move to the third point, that in the words of Dr. Grider, Christ never, “… [P]aid the penalty for our sins… [Because] what Christ did He did for every person, therefore what He did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition [punishment.]” ~ Elwell, Walter A. Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Book House 1984), page 80

From the position of the Remonstrants, what Dr. Grider is saying here is correct.  Unlike many modern-day Arminians, he is being consistent with both his presuppositions and the meaning of words like “ransom”, “redemption” and “propitiation” as they are used in the Bible.  He understands that when payment is made, ownership of the person or thing that has been ransomed now belongs to the one who made the payment.  If Jesus paid for the sins of every single person, then everyone would belong to Him and be in Heaven with Him and no one would be lost to Hell. And yet — but for the rank liberal with little or no respect for Scripture — the concept of universal salvation is not an option. What’s left then for those who reject universalism on the one hand and “Limited Atonement” on the other is to say that Jesus’ sacrifice made redemption possible for people, but did not pay the penalty for anyone’s sins.

One of the difficulties with affirming a doctrine that says that Christ’s goal, Christ’s intention, Christ’s work really did cover the sins of every human being that ever lived, is that it makes God out to be an unjust judge. If you borrow money from me and another gentleman comes along and pays off that debt for you, I can’t then come after you and say, “Hey you need to pay that debt.” It’s been paid.  In like manner, if Jesus died for all the sins of all people, then Hell must be empty.

Owens said this, quoting the Arminian view, “If Christ died to pay for all of the sins of all the people in the world, which is what the Arminians hold, then why are not all of the people in the world saved?” To which they will respond, “Well, you see, that’s only because they don’t accept Christ by faith.” Well, now, is not the rejection of Christ and unbelief, is that not also sin? Does not the Bible speak of a wicked heart of unbelief?  Does not the Bible command us repeatedly to believe, to repent and believe the Gospel? That is not a well wish, it is a command; it is an imperative. Therefore, whatever God commands us to do, if we don’t do it, that is a sin of omission. It is a sin. And if Christ paid for all of the sins of all of the people in the world and unbelief is also a sin that He also paid for, again I ask, why are not all of the people in the world saved? That has never been answered.  As a result of their belief in the universal application of the work of Christ, the Remonstrants was forced to reshuffle the historic teaching of the church and embrace a “governmental theoryof the atonement. The doctrine has two main points that we’ve looked at:

  1. That [Jesus] Christ did not pay for anyone’s sins, and
  2. It’s the sufferings of Christ that are the focal point of the atonementnot His death.

These two points may shock modern-day Arminians! But please realize this is not our opinion of what Remonstrants Arminians taught. These are the words of one who holds consistently to that position. Again, referencing the quote by Dr. Grider:

“[Arminianism] teaches instead [not that Christ paid the penalty for our sins, but] that he suffered for us.” ~ Elwell, Walter A.: Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Book House 1984), pg. 80

When modern-day Arminians tell sinners, “Christ paid for all of your sins,” in the words of C.H. Spurgeon, they are uttering “…a dangerous lie.” ~ C.H. Spurgeon, Freewill – A Slave, #52; The Charles Haddon Spurgeon Library Version 1, pp. 703, 704

Spurgeon went on to explain what made it dangerous:

“…when justice once is satisfied it were injustice if it should ask for more … He has punished Christ, why should He punish twice for one offence? Christ has died for all His people’s sins, and if thou art in covenant, thou art one of Christ’s people. Damned thou canst not be. Suffer for thy sins thou canst not. Until God can be unjust, and demand two payments for one debt, He cannot destroy the soul for whom Jesus died.” ~ Spurgeon, C.H., Justice Satisfied No. 255 (Ages Software, The Charles H. Spurgeon Library Version 1) Delivered on the Sabbath Morning, May 29th, 1859 at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, pg. 418

Understanding this, Remonstrant Arminians insisted that Christ never paid for anyone’s sins. Modern Arminians, on the other hand, have Him paying for MOST sins, but not every single one.

The Arminian has the problem of Christ only dying for some sins.  He doesn’t really atone for all sins because the sin of unbelief can’t really be incorporated there because if a person doesn’t believe in the Cross – and in Christ, then they don’t receive the benefit of the atonement.

Modern-day Arminians, though they rarely say it in such a matter-of-fact way, teach that Christ did 99% of the work in redemption. But unless man adds his faith, his small little fraction of effort — conjured up from the moral residue still in him after the Fall — then the 99% that Christ paid is of no effect. No matter how you slice it, the Gospel, as offered by Arminians, is NOT PAID IN FULL!

You know, though very few would say it, the implication of Arminian theology is that Jesus provided 99% of everything that we need in salvation.  But still, that 1% is man’s free will. Without man’s free will, without the exercise of man’s will, there is no salvation. The reality is, though, that Jesus provided EVERYTHING that we need for salvation.

The Calvinists maintained the reason anyone believes is because they have received all the benefits of the atonement. Jesus paid for every sin committed by those given to Him by the Father, even the sin of unbelief. Understand Calvinism, as represented by the Synod of Dort, is the most grace-centered teaching on justification. It offers sinners absolutely no room for boasting. (Ephesians 2:9) As the old Calvinist hymn declares:

Not the labors of my hands

Can fulfill Thy Law’s demands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears for ever flow,

All for sin could not atone;

Thou must save, and Thou alone.

(Rock of Ages, Augustus M. Toplady 1776.)

The Arminian teaches a works-righteousness salvation. Even though he will teach that it is of grace, nevertheless he believes there is something man contributes to redemption. The Calvinist, on the other hand, says man’s righteousness is as filthy rags. He has nothing to contribute in order that God would accept him as right.  Therefore, the righteousness must come from Christ. It is an alien righteousness.  It is the works of Christ that saves us, not the works of man.


Prevenient Grace – A grace that works before saving grace.

In order to explain away this charge, modern Arminians developed the doctrine of “Prevenient Grace”. This concept suggests that there is a grace that works before saving grace — a sort of awakening or resuscitation of the dead sinner. He is not at this point born again and spiritually alive, but he has been made supernaturally aware of his state by the Holy Spirit and has been given sufficient light and power to repent and choose life IF he so wills it. Or he can reject God’s offer, roll over and go back to his state of spiritual death.

The major problem with the idea of a prevenient grace, a grace that operates prior to salvation, that brings a person, as it were, up to the door of salvation and then it is up to him to take it from there, the problem with that is that it makes man the final determiner in his own salvation. And so salvation is a matter of man and God working together as opposed to salvation being all of grace. And so man has some ground whereby he can boast or at least he can look at his fellow creatures and say, “There is something special about me that you don’t have because I chose and you didn’t.”

So, in the final analysis, the reason why you are in the kingdom, and your neighbor isn’t, is because you did the right thing and they did the wrong thing and that does give you something about which to boast. Now where that puts you in a precarious position is that if you really, in your heart of hearts, are trusting your right decision, your right action, as the reason why you are saved, now you’ve come perilously close to the Roman Catholic view because you are now trusting in something you did in some kind of action that is at least bearing what the Roman Church calls “congruous merit” because it’s on that basis that God accepts you. Because you did the right thing and your neighbor did the wrong thing. So even though you protest that you are not trusting in your own righteousness and you’re not trusting in your own works, when we scratch under the surface, so often what we find is that you really are trusting in your own works.

This was Spurgeon’s conclusion also. He said,

“The doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works.” ~ C.H. Spurgeon, The Forgotten Spurgeon by Ian Murray, p. 80

And if justification comes by works, said the Apostle Paul,

“…then Christ has died in vain.” ~ Galatians 2:21

Arminianism fundamentally glorifies man and it does not challenge his autonomy at any point. And anything that glorifies man, as opposed to God, is something we should not have anything to do with.  So what was the purpose and design of the atonement? Or to put it another way, for whom did Christ die?

The sufficiency of the atonement, the value of the atonement is infinite. But it was designed to affect the redemption of all of God’s elect and no one else.

God is a God who elects for His purpose. And He sets a plan for His sheep. He knows His sheep and He prepares salvation for His sheep and He sends Christ to lay down His life for His sheep.  \

As stated at the beginning of this section, every view limits the atonement in some fashion.

That both views, in some sense, limit the atonement.  We (Calvinists) limit its intent, they (Arminians) limit its power.  They teach that Christ paid for most sins, but not every sin of every person. It’s therefore up to each individual to add their faith, their little penny, to the overall price of redemption.  As for the Remonstrant Arminians, well, they limited the Gospel’s scope and power.  They taught that Christ did not pay for the sins of anyone. And the Synod of Dort rightly concluded that their teaching brought,

“…out of hell the Pelagian error.” ~ Canons of Dort, Second Head of Doctrine, The Rejection of Errors, Article III


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