Does Penal Satisfaction Mean that God’s Law Gets the Last Word?
From my experience in most Reformed churches, there is so little attention to election (especially when talking about covenant and baptism), they would have no problem with clergy assurances of “for you”. So I appreciate any sensitivity to “safeguard the particularity”. In many Reformed congregations, it seems that the only safeguarding is the exclusion of infants without one professing parent from the first “sacrament”.
So I won’t say that denial of penal satisfaction is “not Reformed”. Rather I will say it is not the gospel. If the gospel is about what the clergyman (and the Holy Spirit) do with it, there was no need for Christ to have died. You worry about law having the last word, but you need to see that the gospel is about Christ having satisfied the law. If you make Christ’s death anything other than that, Christ died to no purpose. (Galatians 2:21). If atonement were by means of preaching, justification is not by the bloody death of Christ. When the Bible denies that salvation is by the law, that denial is that salvation is by the Holy Spirit enabling us to keep the law. It is not being denied that the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ and that Christ died to satisfy the law.
No alliance with Lutherans should keep us silent about Jesus dying for the sheep and not the goats. Why then do so many Reformed preachers talk about the “indicative done” in the context of “you” and never in terms of the Westminster Confession: “for all those whom the Father has given the Son” ?
The problem cannot be a “sectarian” sociology which thinks of the church as only those who profess to be justified. Reformed Confessions teach that “the covenant” community must by nature and should include some of the non-elect for whom Jesus did not die and who will not believe the gospel. We also know good and well that not every baptized member even of a “sectarian” community is one for whom Christ died. Of course Norman Shepherd insists that we not talk about election, because every baptized person in church is a Christian. But why is it that so many who oppose Shepherd, and who make a distinction between substance and administration, why is it that they don’t talk about election either?
Being “pastoral” does not give “special priests” the right to assure their hearers that Christ will not be a judge to them. Only the bloody death of Jesus Christ (not the sermon or the sacrament) has for the elect silenced the accusations of God’s law. Of course there is a distinction (in time and otherwise) between that death and the imputation of that death to the elect so that they are justified, but that imputation is not effected by sermon or sacrament.
Obeying the gospel is not the condition of salvation, but a blessing made certain for the elect by the righteousness of Christ. It is not for sure that “you” who are in attendance will be saved. Salvation is promised to all who believe the gospel of salvation conditioned on the blood alone.
The law-gospel antithesis (not by our law-keeping) will do no good if we “flinch at this one point”. If we do not talk about particular atonement, then the people who hear will NOT look outside themselves for the righteous difference which pleases God. If Jesus Christ died for everybody but only “enabled God” to save (in the preaching event) a fraction of these people , then these people will certainly look to themselves for the difference between lost and saved.
The only way you can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you” is to tell them that the gospel they must believe to be saved EXCLUDES even their believing as the condition of salvation. The only condition of salvation for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, you encourage people to make their faith into that “little something” which makes the difference between life and death! They must believe that their believing is not the righteousness that satisfies God’s law.
Do we believe that the glory of God in the gospel means that all for whom Christ died will certainly be saved? Or has that truth become too “rationalistic” for us? Or is it not our job to be that zealous for God’s glory in this manner?
Would this kind of preaching take the grace of God out of the hands of those who hand out the sacrament and who say there is no salvation outside the church as they define it? The gospel itself is God’s power of salvation. No Holy Spirit, no efficacy. No gospel, no efficacy.
The glory of God does not depend on human decisions, and the gospel must not become a victim of alliances or coalitions or hybrids which agree not to talk about the extent of the atonement. Because to do that is to also agree to disagree about the nature of the atonement, and that leaves room for a false gospel in which salvation becomes what God does in the sinner. And I don’t care if you say that’s Christ in the sinner, or grace in the sinner, it does not follow the rule of Galatians 6, which is to glory in the cross alone