A Response to Dr. David Allen’s Presentation on Limited Atonement, Part 1b. The Historical Question in Regards to Jonathan Edwards
b. In Regards to Jonathan Edwards
In the list of theologians that Dr. Allen claimed as Calvinists who rejected Limited atonement, perhaps the most surprising name mentioned was Jonathan Edwards. While most people who hold to a Calvinistic soteriology have not read anything by theologians such as Bullinger or Ursinus, the works of Jonathan Edwards are much more popular, having been recently emphasized by teachers such as John Gerstner and John Piper. John Gerstner’s student R.C. Sproul has written the influential works Chosen by God and Willing to Believe and many readers have been inspired to further studies on topics addressed in these books, and have thus read Edwards’ Freedom of the Will, which Sproul recommends.
In Freedom of the Will Jonathan Edwards argues vigorously against Arminianism. One of the main books Edwards opposes in this work is Dr. Whitby’s Discourse on the Five Points in which the Arminian Dr. Whitby critiqued the five points of Calvinism. If Edwards himself agreed with the Arminian position of unlimited atonement, or if he disagreed with the Calvinist view of Limited atonement, then it would seem that he would make this known at some point in his arguments. Instead, Edwards argues in favor of Limited atonement in the conclusion of Freedom of the Will [most of which can be found on Google Books HERE], writing:
From these things it will inevitably follow, that however Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by his death; yet there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to such as he intended should actually be saved thereby. As appears by what has been now shown, God has the actual salvation or redemption of a certain number in his proper absolute design, and of a certain number only; and therefore such a design only can be prosecuted in any thing God does, in order to the salvation of men. God pursues a proper design of the salvation of the elect in giving Christ to die, and prosecutes such a design with respect to no other, most strictly speaking; for it is impossible, that God should prosecute any other design than only such as he has: he certainly does not, in the highest propriety and strictness of speech, pursue a design that he has not. And, indeed, such a particularity and limitation of redemption will as infallibly follow, from the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, as from that of the decree. For it is as impossible, in strictness of speech, that God should prosecute a design, or aim at a thing, which he at the same time most perfectly knows will not be accomplished, as that he should use endeavours for that which is beside his decree. [Emphases added.]
In his response to Dr. Allen, Reformed Baptist apologist James White [HERE] gives the quote above and also two other quotes from Jonathan Edwards:
This is certain, that God did not intend to save those by the death of Christ, that he certainly knew from all eternity he should not save by his death. Wherefore, it is certain that if he intended to save any by the death of Christ, he intended to save those whom he certainly knew he should save by his death. This is all that was ever pleaded for. (Works of JE, Vol 13, Yale UP, 1994, 211).
Now can we suppose that Christ came down from heaven and went through all this upon uncertainties, not knowing what purchase he should get, how great or how small? Did he die only upon probabilities, without absolute certainty who, or how many, or whether any should be redeemed by what he did and suffered? (ibid, 212).
It his certain that Jonathan Edwards taught Limited atonement. To summarize his teaching using his own words: there is “a particularity and limitation of redemption… something particular in the design of his death, with respect to… a certain number only.”
The teaching of Limited atonement is not the theological rarity that Dr. Allen would have his hearers believe. Many influential Christian theologians have taught this doctrine throughout the years. Two of the theologians whom Dr. Allen claimed as rejecting Limited atonement have been demonstrated as to having taught this doctrine. This calls into question the position held by other theologians Dr. Allen mentions. As Dr. Allen challenged his hearers at the conference, I challenge those reading this blog to study the original sources for yourselves.