A Commercial View of the Atonement?
Do you understand the nature of the atonement? It’s one thing to say that the atonement is always effective, and another to say why the death of Christ for the elect must be effective. The death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice. Even if the death is not for everybody but it’s a “death in general” for the elect to be applied particularly by the Spirit, then the justice of God is not being taught.
Now this can be caricutured. As in, if I had committed one more or less sin, and if there had been one or less elect person, then Christ would have suffered more or less. That cannot be, since it is the death which saves. (In saying that, I hope I am not being dismissive of the sufferings or of the active obedience. The same caricature could be applied to “active obedience”. if there were one more elect, then Christ would have had to do x amount of duties to the law that this one more elect was supposed to do. No, there is only one death, one obedience, one resurrection etc…)
And yet we must be careful in dismissing a “commercial view” of the atonement, not only because Christ can and does do things by measure (healing some but not others) but because the Bible does talk about being bought by blood and belonging. We need to talk about sins being imputed.
The best discussion in print on this is by Tom Nettles in By His Grace and For His glory. Check out his chapter on Christ Died for our Sins, According to the Scriptures. Nettles refutes the Dordt formula (sufficient/ efficient) while at the same time being honest about the history of most Calvinists liking it.
Nettles quotes Andrew Fuller: “We could say that a certain number of Christ’s acts of obedience becomes ours as that certain number of sins becomes his. In the former case his one undivided obedience affords a ground of justification to any number of believers; in the latter, his one atonement is sufficient for the pardon of any number of sins or sinners.
Nettles explains that Fuller “misconceives the biblical relation of imputation. Justification should not be considered as analogous to atonement but rather to the imputation of Adam’s sin”.
More from Nettles’ refutation of Andrew Fuller and “sufficient for all”.
Error one: it’s tantamount to identifying the doctrine of effectual calling with atonement. What one really means by definite atonement is that the difference is not in the atonement but in the Spirit’s work of calling.
“A second error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although Jesus’ death is spoken of as passive obedience–and though the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son–when the sufficiency of the death of Christ arises, the emphasis shifts from the Son’s passive obedience to what he actively accomplished by his infinite divine nature.”
Nettles quotes John Dagg and Abraham Booth against the “sufficient” general view of the atonement. Here’s some from Booth’s Divine Justice Essential to the Divine Character, book3:60
“While cheerfully admitting the sufficiency of Immanuel’s death to have redeemed all mankind, had all the sins of the whole human species been equally imputed to Him, we cannot perceive any solid reason to conclude that his propitiatory sufferings are sufficient for the expiation of sins which he did not bear, or for the redemption of sinners whom he did not represent. For the substitution of Christ, and the imputation of sin to him, are essential to the scriptural doctrine of redemption by our adorable Jesus…
And from Dagg (Manual of Theology, p330): “Some have maintained that, if the atonement of Christ is not general, no sinner can be under obligation to believe in Christ, until he is assured that he is one of the elect. This implies that no sinner is bound to believe what God says, unless he knows that God designs to save him…