Sunday, January 13, 2008

R.L. Dabney on Hypothetical Universalism

R. L Dabney is one of the greatest theologians in the South's history. According to Wikipedia he

was an American Christian theologian, a Southern Presbyterian pastor, and Confederate Army chaplain. He was also chief of staff and biographer to Stonewall Jackson. His biography of Jackson remains in print today.

Dabney and James Henley Thornwell were two of Southern Presbyterianism's most influential scholars. They were both Calvinist, Old School Presbyterians, and social conservatives. Conservative Presbyterians still study their theological works, particularly in the Presbyterian Church in America and Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In his work Systematic Theology he takes up the theme of Christ's sacrifice. In his second section on this topic he deals with the view's held by the French theologian Moses Amyraut, who is best know for his modifications to classic Calvinism. In his handling of Amyraldism he shows how the hypothetical nature of the cross is untenable.

First Dabney sets the stage for his refutation.

The view of the Hypothetical Universalists was professedly Calvinistic, and was doubtless, and is, sincerely held in substance by many honest and intelligent Calvinists, (e. g., Richard Baxter, R. Hall, Bellamy) although Turrettin and Dr. Hodge condemn it as little better than Arminianism in disguise. It presents the divine plan in redemption thus. God decreed from eternity, to create the human race, to permit the fall; then in His infinite compassion, to send Christ to atone for every human being’s sins, (conditioned on his believing); but also foreseeing that all, in consequence of total depravity and the bondage of their will, would inevitably reject this mercy if left to themselves, He selected out of the whole a definite number of elect, to whom He also gave, in His sovereign love, grace to “make them willing in the day of His power.” The non elect, never enjoying this persuasive grace, infallibly choose to reject the provided atonement, and so, as its application is suspended on faith, they fail to receive the benefit of it, and perish.

With this understanding of Amyraldism set in place, Dabney turns to a refutation of this aberrant view.

This theory, if amended so as to say that God sent His Son to provide a vicarious satisfaction for the sin of all whom His Providence intended to place under the Gospel offers, would be liable to less objection than the others. But several objections lie against it. In the first place, the advantage proposed to be gained by it appears illusory. It was hoped that this view would meet the cavils urged by Arminians against the seeming lack of candor in offering Christ’s sacrifice for reconciliation to those for whom God never designed it. But I submit that this cavil is not in the least dissolved by saying that God designed Christ’s sacrifice to provide satisfaction for every non elect man’s guilt, which would avail for his atonement only on condition of his true faith, while the omniscience of God showed him that this sinner would certainly refuse this faith, in consequence of his total depravity, and God’s purpose was distinctly formed not to remove that depravity by His effectual grace. To say that God purposed, even conditionally, the reconciliation of that sinner by Christ’s sacrifice, while also distinctly proposing to do nothing effectual to bring about the fulfillment of the condition He knew the man would surely refuse, is contradictory. It is hard to see how, on this scheme, the sacrifice is related more beneficially to the non elect sinner, than on the strict Calvinist’s plan. Second, the statement of Amyraut involves the same vice of arrangement pointed out in the supralapsarian and sublapsarian plans. It tends towards assigning a sequence to the parts of the decree, as it subsists in God’s mind. He thinks and purposes it as one contemporaneous, mutually connected whole. The student is referred to the remarks already made upon this error. Third, and chiefly, Armyraut has to represent the graces which work effectual calling, while free and unmerited indeed, as yet the free gift of the Father’s electing love, irrespective of Christ’s purchase, (for that is represented as made in common for all) and not mediated to the elect sinner through Christ’s sacrifice. Since Christ’s intercession is expressly grounded in His sacrifice, we shall have to conceive of the benefit of effectual calling as also not mediated to the sinner by Christ’s intercession. But this is all contrary to Scripture, which represents Christ as the channel through which all saving benefits come, and the very graces which fulfill the instrumental conditions of salvation as a part of His purchase for His people. See, for instance, Acts 5:31; Rom. 8:32; Eph. 1:3, 4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 2:14; 2 Pet. 1:2, 3.

Dabney, Systematic Theology, p., 519-520.

1 comment:

Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!