Friday, September 7, 2007

A.W. Pink, Limited Atonement, and 1 John 2:1&2. Pt. 1

by JM
In the debate on the scope of the atonement, 1 John 2:1-2 appears to support an unlimited view of the atonement.
1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
An unlimited view of the atonement will hold that Christ made propitiation (in some significant way) for people who ultimately experience eternal wrath. In the appendix of his work, The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Pink gives several reasons for why he believes that 1 John 2:1-2 does not support an unlimited view of the atonement, thereby seeking to secure the reformed doctrine of limited atonement from the allegation of being unfaithful to Scripture. Of his treatment of 1 John 2:1-2, he says
“Below we offer a number of conclusive proofs to show that this verse does not teach that Christ has propitiated God on behalf of all the sins of all men.”
You can view his short treatment on the topic here: Appendix 4. 1 John 2.2 My conclusion from examining Pink’s treatment is that he has severely overstated his case, and at some points is irrational. In next few blogs, I’ll present the what I believe to be his arguments to support the above contention, and then follow up with some analysis. Let's hear Pink in his own words.

“In the first place, the fact that this verse opens with "and" necessarily links it with what has gone before. We, therefore, give a literal word for word translation of 1 John 2 :1 from Bagster’s Interlinear: "Little children my, these things I write to you, that ye may not sin; and if any one should sin, a Paraclete we have with the Father, Jesus Christ (the) righteous". It will thus be seen that the apostle John is here writing to and about the saints of God. His immediate purpose was two-fold: first, to communicate a message that would keep God’s children from sinning; second, to supply comfort and assurance to those who might sin, and, in consequence, be cast down and fearful that the issue would prove fatal. He, therefore, makes known to them the provision which God has made for just such an emergency. This we find at the end of verse 1 and throughout verse 2. The ground of comfort is twofold: let the downcast and repentant believer (1 John 1:9) be assured that, first, he has an "Advocate with the Father"; second, that this Advocate is "the propitiation for our sins". Now believers only may take comfort from this, for they alone have an "Advocate", for them alone is Christ the propitiation, as is proven by linking the Propitiation ("and") with "the Advocate"!”
This is what I discern his first argument to be:

(1) John is only writing to comfort believers about forgiveness.
(2) This comfort is grounded in Christ’s intercession and Christ’s propitiation.
(3) Given that only believers are addressed, therefore only believers can have the comfort of forgiveness.
(4) Therefore, only believers are interceded for and propitiated.
For point of clarification, I do not believe that it is necessary for someone who holds to unlimited atonement to affirm that Christ intercedes for the non-elect. In my view, everyone interceded for is also propitiated, but not everyone that is propitiated is interceded for.

Now to the argument. (4) doesn’t follow from (3). It doesn’t follow that since only believers can have the assurance of salvation, then only believers are propitiated. What about the elect who have not yet been granted faith and therefore have no comfort or assurance of their soul’s state? Are we to say that they are neither propitiated nor interceded for? In fact, Pink’s reasoning seems to lead to the follow contradictory statements:

In order to be believer, one must be interceded for by Christ (which I think Pink would concede).

In order to be interceded for by Christ, one must be a believer.
Since it is obvious that one can be interceded for without being a believer, it seems possible that one can be propitiated for without ever being a believer.

Let me make the same point in a slightly different way.

Pink’s reasoning leads to a conclusion that Pink doesn’t want to adopt, namely, “in order to be interceded for by Christ, one must be one of the elect who is also believing.” Pink argues that since only believers are addressed about the comfort they can derive from Christ's intercession and propitiation, therefore only believers are interceded and propitiated for. This is the conclusive proof he gives to undermine the unlimited thesis.

My point, in part, is that this comfort (assurance) can't be given to all the elect (like the unbelieving elect). It doesn't follow then that the unbelieving elect are neither interceded nor propitiated for. If Pink wants to insist on this, then he’s forced to say:

The non-believing elect are neither propitiated for nor interceded for, seeing that they can’t have the assurance of salvation, given that they are not believers.
I think that the natural reading of the texts strongly suggests that the scope of the phrase “not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world” includes group people outside of the immediate audience, regardless of their believing status, thus undermining the force of Pink’s argument.