Thursday, April 26, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? VII

Our discussion, then, has brought us to the heart of the question. For whom did Chalmers believe Christ died? As we have noted, the Free Offer of the gospel was the starting point of Thomas Chalmers’ theology and the touchstone to which he brought other matters. His theology of the particularity of Christ’s redemption was formed by this doctrine:

“This doctrine of particular redemption is either not a doctrine at all [That is, not properly a doctrine], or is grievously misunderstood – if in virtue thereof a minister feels himself restrained from making the open proclamation of its offered forgiveness to all within his reach.”[Prelections P. 318]

Which was it? Chalmers answered that the doctrine was true, but not in the manner imagined. Although Chalmers disliked discussions on the extent of the atonement, in those few places where he does treat of it, it is apparent that he held a basically Amyraldian view of it. Christ had died for all in offer, but for the elect only in effect.

“It is nowhere said in the Bible that Christ so died for me in particular, as that by His simple dying the benefits of His atonement are mine in possession. But it is everywhere said in the Bible, that He so died for me in particular, as that by His simple dying the benefits of His atonement are mine in offer. They are mine if I will.”[Romans Vol. 2 Pp. 104-5]

Chalmers preached a hypothetically universal atonement, finding that there was no other basis for a free offer, “If Christ died only for the elect, and not for all,” ministers “are puzzled to understand how they should proceed with the calls and invitations of the gospel.”[Institutes Vol. 2 P. 418] And he preached that way: “We tell you of God’s beseeching voice. We assure you, in His name, that he wants you not to die. We bid you venture for pardon on the atonement made by Him who died for all.”[Romans Vol. 3 P. 392]

“Christ did not so die for all as that all do actually receive the gift of salvation; but He so died for all, as that all to whom He is preached have the real and honest offer of Salvation. He is not yours in possession till you have laid hold of Him by faith. But he is your in offer. He is as much yours as anything of which you can say – I have it for the taking. You, one and all of you, my brethren, have salvation for the taking; and it is because you do not choose to take it if it do not indeed belong to you.”[Ibid. P. 203-4]

According to Chalmers’ view, Christ died for all men in offer. Every human being who ever lived and who ever will live is warranted to come to Christ and believe that Christ had died for him. Chalmers could have sung without complaint the lines of Charles Wesley:

Who did for every sinner die,
Hath surely died for me. ['Spirit of Faith, come down'. The 'offending' line is changed in 'Christian Hymns']

Indeed, he could have agreed with all of Charles Wesley’s universal atonement language, for Chalmers declared explicitly his agreement with the Arminian William Paley that “Christ died for the whole world, because now and in consequence of His death, the offer of the remission of sins may be made to the whole world.”[Prelections Pp. 107-8] He noted carefully that there are two sorts of universality that may be postulated with regard to the atonement. One was false, namely the heresy of universalism, that Christ so died for all that all without distinction will certainly be saved. That was a universality of effect, and that was false. The second was a universality of proposition, a conditional universality conditioned on faith.[Ibid. P. 324]

“The remedy [for human sin], in fact, is much more extensive in proposition than it is in effect. It may be held out, in proposition, to all, while at the same time, and effectively, it is limited to those who repent and believe, while most assuredly all those who do so repent and believe shall be saved. And it is also quite true, that though the offer of redemption were rejected by all, there is a sense in which that redemption [Not the offer, note, but the atonement itself. Chalmers guards against his point being misunderstood] might still be called universal. The offer could not be made without it; and now that Christ hath died, the offer might be made to one and all of the species.”[Prelections P. 326]

“We hold as unfortunate,” Chalmers told his students as he criticized the very lectures he had heard at St. Andrews, “the assertion that Christ did not die for all men, but for those of every nation who are in the end to be saved.”[Ibid. P. 356] The implication, backed up by Chalmers’ own preaching, was that the students, in calling sinners to Christ, ought to tell their hearers that Christ died for all. And this hypothetical universalism, which is the marrow of Amyraldianism, was not just a brief theological phase in Thomas Chalmers’ career. From the Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans in the 1820s to his Institutes of Theology, which was still unfinished at his death, Thomas Chalmers insisted on this doctrine when he thought it necessary. In the pulpit it was urged with the outstretched hand of offer, in the classroom urged with scientific logic.

And at the very end of his life, when he was but a few hours from eternity, Chalmers was still defending the hypothetical universalism of his old favourite Richard Baxter. Hanna records a conversation Chalmers had on the day before his sudden death:

“‘Doddridge, [his friend said] for example is latitudinarian; but I should be very unwilling to call him unsound. And Baxter is still more latitudinarian; but I should be very unwilling, in the full sense of the word, to call him unsound. There are what are called Baxterian errors, I am aware, and one of these is in relation to the extent of the sacrifice of Christ; Baxter, I think, holds that Christ died for all men.’ Dr. Chalmers answered, ‘Yes, Baxter holds that Christ died for all men; but I cannot say that I am quite at one with what some of our friends have written on the subject of the atonement. I do not, for example, entirely agree with what Mr. Haldane says on the subject.[A reference to James A. Haldane: The Doctrine of the Atonement (Edinburgh, William P. Kennedy, Third edition, 1852). The first edition of this work was published in 1845.] I think that the word world, as applied in Scripture to the sacrifice of Christ, has been unnecessarily restricted; the common way of explaining it is, that it simply includes Gentiles as well as Jews. I do not like that explanation; and I think that there is one text that puts that interpretation entirely aside. The text to which I allude is, that “God commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent.”’ Here the Doctor spoke of the connexion between the election of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the freeness of the offer of the Gospel. He spoke with great eloquence, and I felt that he was in the pulpit, as some of his finest bursts rolled from his lips. ‘In the offer of the Gospel,’ said he, we must make no limitations whatever. I compare the world to a multitude of iron filings in a vessel, and the Gospel to a magnet. The minister of the Gospel must bring the magnet into contact with them all: the secret agency of God is to produce the attraction.’”[Hanna Vol. 2 P. 773]

God willing, we shall conclude this paper next time.



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