Saturday, July 24, 2010

Atonement with a Different Kind of Limits

What is a necessary means of divine forgiveness of sins? Consider Isaiah 53.5:

But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. {wounded: or, tormented} {stripes: Heb. bruise}

How many times will Christ have suffered for sins? The answer is one, for it is written:

24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, [which are] the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: 25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; 26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9.24-28)

Also consider Hebrews 10.9-18:

9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once [for all]. 11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. 15 [Whereof] the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, 16 This [is] the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18 Now where remission of these [is, there is] no more offering for sin.

What follows from this? What follows is that any sins committed, for example, by the apostles Paul or Peter before the death of Christ and after the death of Christ were blotted out when Christ died. That is, Christ died for sins of the past, present and future.

Any sins that you as a modern-day person have committed are sins for which Christ died two thousand years ago in the past. The sufferings, death and resurrection of Christ are events which have already come and gone: they’re done deals. Therefore, Christ suffered for definite and particular acts of transgressions against God’s law.

Now, let it be that at the beginning of the world God ordained that the apostle Paul commit sins s1, s2, (and let’s call this set of sins S) and ordained that Paul not be allowed to commit any sins other than S. (Or alternatively, let it be that God knew that Paul would commit S and ordained that Paul not be allowed to commit any sins other than S.) With respect to the sins of the apostle Paul, Christ accordingly would later die for S, but not for any sin sn+1, sn+2,′ since God had already foreordained that Paul not be allowed to commit any sins beyond the set S. What this means is that if for some reason Paul does go on to commit a sin sn+1, then he will have committed a sin for which Christ did not die and won’t have died. So if there is a first-order possibility* that Paul will commit sn+1 and if Paul is predestined to everlasting life, then it is necessary to prevent Paul’s committing sn+1.

Now, the prevention of this event either can be direct or can be an act which involves means. As it turns out, it would be entirely consistent with the paradigm of Reformed theology that any divine warning that Paul not sin can be one divinely-appointed means to the end of preventing this event. For example, a meteorologist might warn people about an approaching hurricane, lest any or every person within a certain area be killed by the storm; and sure enough, these warnings often save lives.

At some point, rudimentary teachings of eternal security have to give way to concepts of God’s preserving his people or of God’s ensuring that his people persevere. Arminian and sub-Arminian apologists like to focus attention on supposed biblical warnings and semi-warnings of apostasy in New Testament texts (e.g., Heb 10.26-31), yet we have just seen perhaps one reason that such texts exist and how they do not necessarily serve as counterexamples to Perseverance of the Saints.
* And I define first-order possibility as follows: the possibility of Paul’s sinning if this sinning is not later prevented by something. Presumably, foreordination does not directly prevent his sinning any more than foreordination of the salvation of believers directly causes this salvation in precluding means of the gospel, the preaching of the gospel, knowledge and belief of the gospel, etc.

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