Nathan Finn–“Chun agrees with scholars who emphasize greater continuity than discontinuity between Edwards’s understanding of the atonement and the moral government view of the New Divinity theologians. Fuller embraced governmental language and was actually much closer to Edwards, who also allowed for a governmental aspect . Both men combined a universal sufficiency with a particular efficacy, the limitation being in God’s covenantal design rather than in the nature of propitiation itself.”
Romans 3:25–”Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…”
Andrew Fuller (Reply to Philanthropos, Complete Works,II, p499) comments: “There would be no propriety in saying of Christ that He is set forth to be an expiatory sacrifice THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, because He was a sacrifice for sin prior to the consideration of our believing in Him. The text does not express what Christ WAS as laying down His life , but what He IS in consequence of it.”
Andrew Fuller makes a distinction between “covenantal intent” and “the nature of the atonement itself”. While Abraham Booth is today often accused of saying that Christ “became literally a sinner”, that is a distraction from the important debate about the nature of God’s imputation of the elect’s sins to Christ.
Abraham Booth did not use the careless language of Tobias Crisp (or of Luther) about Christ becoming a sinner. Booth rejected any idea of Christ having a fallen human nature. But Booth did teach that “imputation” has two aspects. First, and always, God counts and declares the truth about a person. But second, and sometimes, God puts into effect a legal solidarity between persons. Thus God counted the sins of the elect to Christ, and then counts the death of Christ to the elect.
Using the word “literal” here is not helpful, because it begs the question of what is “actual”. The righteousness of Christ is His death and that death is real, so why would it be a fiction for God to count that death as the death of the elect? Thus the two senses of “imputation”. First, a legal “transfer” (although I prefer sharing, since it’s still Christ’s death). Second, on the basis of that REAL TRUTH, God then declares the justified elect sinner to be righteous, to be justified.
But of course many like Fuller (and Edwards) dismiss this account, and say it doesn’t matter because in the end it’s all based on “union” anyway. But this only begs the question by moving their assumptions about the legal not being “real” enough into the “union question”. Their assumption is always that “union” is not legal. The not yet argued presupposition is that “union” is something (they can’t exactly say what) which is “more than legal”. This is why we need to examine Fuller’s controversy with Abraham Booth, and take sides with Abraham Booth.
This is NOT a question about the duty of the non-elect to have faith in the gospel, and the related question of “two kinds of ability” (as argued by Edwards and Fuller). That is another distraction from the greater question about the nature of the atonement. While I don’t see much in the Bible about the “duty” of unbelievers to believe the gospel, I don’t deny that all sinners are commanded to believe the gospel. And (unlike Edwards) I don’t need to connect that command to some philosophical account of “ability”.
This is not even a question about the optimism of the post-millennial fantasies of Edwards and Andrew Fuller. It’s a question about the justice of God, and about the justice of God in Christ dying for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ by God. If the sins of the elect are not “really” justly imputed to Christ, then the death of Christ itself is not that which “really” makes God both just and the justifier of the ungodly. Instead we would have to look away from the cross itself, and look to what God is now doing in terms of some kind of “covenantal intent”.
Though Andrew Fuller affirmed a particular atonement in a certain sense– in that the atonement will procure faith for only the elect–he is not willing to say that Christ was only the propitiation for the elect alone. Instead of telling that plain truth, that Christ either already died for a sinner or already did not, Andrew Fuller wanted to say that Christ died for all sinners in some sense. This universal sense advocated by Andrew Fuller has to do with the nature of propitiation. He denies that Christ in the past propitiated the Trinity for the sins of any specific person. Rather, Andrew Fuller teaches that Christ died to make an offer of propitiation to every sinner.
According to Andrew Fuller, what’s important is the “covenantal design and intent” of what Christ did, that there could be propitiation now if the Holy Spirit were to cause a sinner to accept the offer of propitiation and thus join themselves to Christ through faith .
Fuller asserted an universal conditional sufficiency in Christ’s death for all sinners. It is an old and subtle doctrine, but Andrew Fuller was a very subtle man, much like John Wesley, using words like “imputation” in ways meant to mislead those who had a different meaning for the words.
What does Andrew Fuller accomplish by shifting from what Christ DID back then over there to who Christ Is and what He “Can” do here and now if the Spirit helps a sinner to take up the “offer”?
Andrew Fuller changes the meaning of the propitiatory death of Christ. With the Arminians, he makes the propitiation to be dependent on the sinner having faith. The subtle “hybrid” part though is that (with the Calvinists) Andrew Fuller also makes the having faith be dependent on what God obtained by means of Christ’s death.
Andrew Fuller ends up putting the emphasis on grace as opposed to justice. God is sovereign now to give faith to elect sinners because of Christ’s death. The idea that God has already been JUSTLY propitiated for a sinner (or not) is no longer in the picture. Andrew Fuller’s notion of “sovereign grace” is opposing the gospel of God being justified in justifying the ungodly. He is opposing justice in the name of grace.
Two comments. First, even though Fullerites want to say that the only way to be consistent in teaching a definite propitiation (what Christ WAS as laying down his life) is to teach an eternal justification, where the elect only subjectively find out that they were always justified, I do not (and Abraham Booth did not) teach that any unbeliever is justified.
All the justified elect are people who believe the gospel. Belief in the gospel is an immediate consequence (not a condition) of God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect (not of God’s imputation of the elect’s sins to Christ).
“Through faith” in Romans 3:25 does not mean “conditioned on faith”. Faith for the elect is what justice demands AFTER righteousness is imputed to them. I do not say it “their right” but it is Christ’s right because of what Christ WAS AND DID. Once sins were imputed to Christ, then Christ died by the law because of these sins, and now Christ is free and justified before the law.
So I can and do say to any unbeliever, unless you believe the gospel, you are not yet justified. But I also say to those unbelievers: your believing is not something you can or will do unless Christ died for you, and you will never know if Christ did until you believe the gospel.
Second comment. Look at what Andrew Fuller is saying with his distinction between what Christ is as opposed to what Christ was. Fuller is teaching that God is governmentally sovereign and therefore God can do whatever God wants to do now with what Christ did then.
If so, why did Christ die? To make it possible? So that propitiation “might” happen? To ask such questions leads to another question. If God is so sovereignly superior to justice in His government, why did Christ need to die at all? If the meaning and effectiveness of the propitiation was only to be assigned later, is that meaning a matter of justice or only arbitrary?
Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”
Galatians 4:5-6 –”to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Edwards and Andrew Fuller use the concept of “covenantal union” to say that the atonement which really matters is the application of Christ’s death. They deny that the “union” is legal. They insist that the legal is “based on the union”. The logic leads to the “atonement” not being what Christ did to satisfy the law, but instead the application of “the covenantal intent”.
It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.
Although the gospel teaches that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, the gospel does not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Romans 6 explains how the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.
But folks like Andrew Fuller use “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse the rest with thinking there is no need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it.
There is no justification apart from faith. Faith in the gospel is NOT a mere recognition that we were already justified. But those who follow Andrew Fuller tend to deny any distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement.
At the end of the day, these folks locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration and faith to “covenantally unite” people with that propitiation. Though they may formally agree to some “legal aspect” to “union”, for all practical purposes they ignore or deny the reality that God already imputed the sins of only the elect to Christ.
In this way, the followers of Andrew Fuller make way for the idea of some “universal sufficiency” in Christ’s propitiation. And when it turns out that this ‘sufficiency” is not enough to save the non-elect, they answer: “well, you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”
The followers of Andrew Fuller teach universal sufficiency and an offer (to everybody I guess who is not already dead) . They claim that we can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to Andrew Fuller, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. God did not really impute specific sins, according to Fuller, Edwards and the New England Theology.