Nov 24, 2012

Definite Atonement XVI

"And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?"  (I Cor. 8: 11)

"But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died...For meat destroy not the work of God."  (Rom. 14: 15, 20)

These two verses, in my opinion, represent the best proof for the general atonement position.  All the arguments about Christ dying for all men, and for the world, are not nearly as forceful as are the arguments made from the above two verses.  It seems to present the very proof that one would expect and demand, if the general atonement position is correct.  One would expect that, if Christ died for all men, for those who go to Hell as well as for those who go to Heaven, a verse of Scripture would affirm that those who perish were of the number for whom Christ died. 

What is difficult about the verses is the fact that they seem, on the surface, to affirm that some for whom Christ died will finally perish, a position, as I have shown from other Scripture, is invalidated.  (See for instance Romans 5: 6-10; Romans 6: 4-10; Romans 8: 31-34)  If these verses positively affirm that none of those for whom Christ died can perish, then how can the above verses contradict them?  In my own mind, I am convinced that the verses referred to in Romans show conclusively that none of those for whom Christ died can be lost.  That being so, how are we to interpret the opening verses that seem to teach otherwise?

What is also interesting about these verses is that they are also the focus of the debate concerning apostasy and eternal security.  Among those who believe in general atonement there are those who believe that believers may so sin as to be finally lost and those who deny it, believing that every genuine Christian will be finally saved.  The latter group of general atonement advocates do not often cite these verses to prove that some for whom Christ died will be lost, for they believe that the ones under consideration are "brothers," fellow Christians, though "weak."  However, I do not believe that these "weak brothers" are genuine Christians and would refer the reader to my series on the weak brothers.  All I am saying is that those who advocate general atonement, believe in eternal security, and believe that the weak brothers are genuinely saved Christians, have no grounds for citing these verses to prove that the weak brothers, "for whom Christ died," are eternally lost.  The only ones who can legitimately use these verses to deny definite atonement are those advocates of general atonement who believe that Christians can lose salvation.

I do not believe that the weak brothers are Christians, but pagan neighbors, friends, and brothers to the Corinthian Christians.  (See my series in the archives for Dec. 2011 through Jan. 2012)  Paul said that he labored to "save" and "gain" the weak (I Cor. 9: 22), which ought to be proof enough that "the weak" (impotent) are not saved people already.  The fact that Paul would use the term "brother" to refer to lost Gentiles is no more proof that such were saved than the fact that Paul used the term "brother" to refer to unbelieving Jews proved that such Jews were saved.

Many Calvinists who believe in special atonement, and who of course deny that any truly saved person can be finally lost, explain the verses by saying that the perishing and the destruction warned against is temporal, and not eternal, affirming that the destruction is in the believer's conscience, and is of his joy and peace.  However, I find this view untenable.  I clearly believe that the perishing is eternal.  Since Paul labored to gain and save the weak, the weak are therefore not saved, and thus the perishing must be eternal.  Besides, the word perishing is the word often employed for the final destiny of those who are lost.  Further, the Greek word for "destroy" means to utterly destroy.  Also, Paul does not say that the peace and joy of the weak brother is what perishes, but the brother himself. 

Some Calvinists argue, in the case of I Cor. 8: 11, that nothing can be argued for the certainty of the weak perishing since Paul asks a rhetorical question rather than making an emphatic statement.  And, it is argued, one cannot argue that Paul is absolutely affirming the destruction of the weak brother but simply positing a question.  I find this untenable, though possible. 

I don't think that the question Paul asks is any different than what may be asked in regard to any lost sinner.  We could say to any Christian who is failing to witness to his lost neighbor - "through your behavior shall the sinner perish for whom Christ died?"  Christians may not only be the means of saving sinners but may also be the means of their not being saved.  Paul does not want to say - "well, it is okay if you fail to be a means in the salvation of others, for God will save them anyway."  Paul was no Antinomian or Hyper Calvinist.  The question Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to ponder is this - "will you be a help or a hindrance in the salvation of others?"  This is the message God gave to the prophet Ezekiel.

"When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.  Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul."  (Eze. 33: 8-9)

Ezekiel's failure to warn the wicked would work towards ensuring the damnation of the wicked, but his warning of the wicked would work towards his salvation.  Jesus said to the Pharisees that they "shut up the kingdom of heaven against men" (Matt. 23: 13) and that when they had made proselytes that they had made them "twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." (Matt. 23: 15) 

Dr. Charles Hodge, in his commentary on I Corinthians, writes:

"This passage, therefore, is perfectly consistent with those numerous passages which teach that Christ’s death secures the salvation of all those who were given to him in the covenant of redemption. There is, however, a sense in which it is scriptural to say that Christ died for all men. This is very different from saying that he died equally for all men, or that his death had no other reference to those who are saved than it had to those who are lost. To die for one is to die for his benefit. As Christ’s death has benefited the whole world, prolonged the probation of men, secured for them innumerable blessings, provided a righteousness sufficient and suitable for all, it may be said that he died for all. And in reference to this obvious truth the language of the apostle, should any prefer this interpretation, may be understood, ‘Why should we destroy one for whose benefit Christ laid down his life?’ All this is perfectly consistent with the great scriptural truth that Christ came into the world to save his people, that his death renders certain the salvation of all those whom the Father hath given him, and therefore that he died not only for them but in their place , and on the condition that they should never die."

The Greek for "for whom" is ὃν δι’ and literally means "for whose sake."  Paul does not use the Greek word "anti" which denotes substitution, nor the Greek word "huper" which means "for whose benefit."  Thus, the passage does not say that the one who perishes is one for whom Christ died as a substitute.  As I have stated previously in this series, it is not denied that Christ died for all men in some sense.  What I have affirmed is that Christ died specially for his elect, dying for them as a penal substitute and making their salvation certain.  This is what Dr. Hodge and other Calvinists have affirmed.  The passage in Romans, however, does have "huper" in "destroy not him with your food for whom Christ died."  But, again, huper does not necessarily denote substitution. 

Paul, in the passage in Romans 14 says "destroy not the work of God."  This certainly cannot be interpreted to mean "destroy not the atonement," or "make the atonement a failure."  In a previous posting it has already been shown how Paul rejected the idea that Christ had died "in vain."  Paul is therefore not warning against making Christ's work on the cross to come to no effect.  What then is "the work of God" that Paul warns against destroying?  What work of God can be destroyed, if it is not the atoning work of God in Christ?

First, it must be said that not all warnings against destruction imply an absolute possibility of destruction.  Again, Hodge wrote:

"Shall we, for the sake of eating one kind of meat rather than another, endanger the salvation of those for whom the eternal Son of God laid down his life? The infinite distance between Christ and us, and the almost infinite distance between his sufferings and the trifling self-denial required at our hands, give to the apostle’s appeal a force the Christian heart cannot resist. The language of Paul in this verse seems to assume that those may perish for whom Christ died. It belongs, therefore, to the same category as those numerous passages which make the same assumption with regard to the elect. If the latter are consistent with the certainty of the salvation of all the elect, then this passage is consistent with the certainty of the salvation of those for whom Christ specifically died. It was absolutely certain that none of Paul’s companions in shipwreck was on that occasion to lose his life, because the salvation of the whole company had been predicted and promised; and yet the apostle said that if the sailors were allowed to take away the boats, those left on board could not be saved.

This appeal secured the accomplishment of the promise. So God’s telling the elect that if they apostatize they shall perish, prevents their apostasy.

And in like manner, the Bible teaching that those for whom Christ died shall perish if they violate their conscience, prevents their transgressing, or brings them to repentance. God’s purposes embrace the means as well as the end. If the means fail, the end will fail. He secures the end by securing the means. It is just as certain that those for whom Christ died shall be saved, as that the elect shall be saved. Yet in both cases the event is spoken of as conditional. There is not only a possibility, but an absolute certainty of their perishing if they fall away. But this is precisely what God has promised to prevent. This passage, therefore, is perfectly consistent with those numerous passages which teach that Christ’s death secures the salvation of all those who were given to him in the covenant of redemption."

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