On the Necessity of the Atonement

.

Subsection

Must God Punish Sinners by a Necessity of his Nature?

.

.

Order of Contents

Not Necessary at All
Consequent Necessity
Hypothetical Necessity
Absolute Necessity
Historical  4
Westminster
.      Commentaries  4

.

.

Not Necessary at All

This has been the view of persons and groups who deny that Christ’s death was substitutionary, penal or legal at all, such as the the semi-pelagian nominalists of the Middles Ages (such as John Duns Scotus) and the Socinians.

.

.

A Hypothetical Necessity

Definition:

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, ‘The Cause & Necessity of the Atonement’.

“Calvin says: ‘It deeply concerned us, that He who was to be our Mediator should be very God and very man.  If the necessity be inquired into, it was not what is commonly called simple or absolute, but flowed from the divine decree, on which the salvation of man depended.  What was best for us our merciful Father determined.’ (Institutes, II, 12.1)

The atonement was necessary, therefore, because God sovereignly determined to forgive sin on no other condition.”

.

See also John Murray, p. 6, for another definition.

.

Early Church

Athanasius

Augustine, On the Trinity, bk. 13, ch. 10 & 16

Theodoret, Orations to the Greeks, 6

John of Damascus, 1.3, ch. 18

.

Medieval Church

Aquinas, Thomas – Summa, pt. 3, question 46, articles 2 & 3

.

1500’s

Calvin

Zanchi

Beza

According to Voet (per Berkhof), Beza changed his view to consequent necessity later in life.

.

1600’s

Rutherford, Samuel – pp. 20-34  of ch. 7, ‘It’s not written in the heart of man by nature that God should promise life eternal to man, upon condition of obedience. 2. And that the debt of justice cannot tie God. 3. God punishes not sin by necessity of na­ture. 4. Nor defends He his own declarative glory by that necessity…’  in The Covenant of Life Opened…  (Edinburgh, 1655)

Rutherford positively sets forth his own view near the end of his discussion in these propositions (p. 34):

“It is safest to say:

[1.] the only wise God decreed that sin should be.

2. That the glory of his justice should appear in taking away sin, not in our way, but in the way of God, to wit, in a way of justice, of mercy, of free grace, in incompa­rable love, of mighty power; and

[3.] in all these so acts the Lord as He should not leave off to be the Lord, but acts most freely, though He had not taken that course.  But far be it from the godly not to adore him in this, as the admirable way beyond the thoughts of men and angels.”

Twisse

.

1800’s

Bavinck, Herman

.

Quotes

Calvin

Institutes, bk. 2, ch. 12, section 1, as provided by Berkhof

“It deeply concerned us, that He who was to be our Mediator should be very God and very man.  If the necessity be inquired into, it was not what is commonly called simple or absolute, but flowed from the divine decree, on which the salvation of man depended.  What was best for us our merciful Father determined.”

.

.

A Consequent Necessity

Definition:

While it was free and not necessary for God to redeem, yet having purposed to redeem, it was necessary that redemption be accomplished according to certain requisites, specifically that God’s righteousness and his law’s justice be fulfilled through the penal, substitutionary death of the divine Mediator in the human nature.  God could not have forgiven sin without an expiation of sin by human death.

.

Articles

Medieval

Anselm – Why God Became Man?

.

1600’s

Voet, Gisbert –

a Marck, Johannes –

Turretin, Francis –   Ch. 1, ‘The Necessity of the Atonement’  †1687  16 pp.  in On the Atonement, pp. 14-30.  Also in Institutes  (P&R), vol. 2, Locus 14, Question 10.

van Mastricht, Peter – bk. 5, ch. 7  in Theoretical Practical Theology  (RHB), vol. 4

.

1800’s

Stevenson, George – A Dissertation on the Atonement  (Philadelphia, 1832), pp. 5-98

Hodge, A.A. – The Atonement  (London, 1868), pp. 217-22

Thornwell, James H. – ‘The Necessity of the Atonement’  in Collected Writings  (Richmond, VA: 1886), vol. 2, pp. 205-61

.

1900’s

Murray, John

Ch. 1, ‘The Necessity of the Atonement’  in Redemption Accomplished & Applied, (Eerdmans, 2015), pp. 3-13  An outline of this chapter is here.

Ch. 2, ‘The Necessity’, pp. 2-3  in The Atonement  in An International Library of Philosophy & Theology: Biblical & Theological Studies Series  Buy  (P&R, 1980)  The booklet is also here.

Berkhof, Louis – ‘The Cause & Necessity of the Atonement’  14 paragraphs  in Systematic Theology  (1950)

Outline
III. The Cause & Necessity of the Atonement

Intro
A. The Moving Cause of the Atonement
B. Historical Views Respecting the Necessity of the Atonement
C. Proofs for the Necessity of the Atonement
D. Objections to the Doctrine of the Absolute Necessity of the Atonement

.

Book

Owen, John – Dissertation on Divine Justice  in Works, vol. 10

.

Confessional Documents

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 40

Canons of Dort II, article 1

.

Quote

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

“It seems to me a terrible thing to say that there was no intrinsic necessity for Christ’s death, for then we virtually say that He died for sin that He need not have died for.”

.

.

An Absolute Necessity for the Atonement

Definition:

Man having fallen, God was morally necessitated to send and offer redemption.

.

The Lutherans & Arminians held to this.

.

.

Historical

On the Early Church

Smeaton, George – pp. 508-9  of ‘Historical Sketch of the Doctrine of Atonement’  an appendix to The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement  (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870)

.

On the Post-Reformation

Walker, James – ‘The Necessity of the Atonement’  1888  8 pp.  being section 1 of ch. 3, ‘The Atonement’ in The Theology & Theologians of Scotland: chiefly of the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries, pp. 67-75

A survey of the 1600’s Scottish covenanters on the necessity of the atonement, from a minister in the Free Church of Scotland.

Smeaton, George – p. 530  of ‘Historical Sketch of the Doctrine of Atonement’  an appendix to The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement  (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870)

Muller, Richard – PRRD, vol. 3, on Vindicatory Justice

.

.

Westminster

Notes on Westminster

1. The WLC uses the term ‘requisite’, not necessity.

2. The WLC does not use the language of a legal atonement or satisfaction, but only that the Mediator should “suffer and make intercession for us in our nature”.

3. The WLC does not clarify or define how these items regarding the Mediator were requisite.

4. Something requisite may be understood as a condition or precondition to the end attained.  There are numerous possible reasons why something may be requisite, one of which is because of the free pleasure of God in decreeing human redemption to occur in that way, with such interrelations.

5. Hence the Westminster’s language could accommodate both the hypothetical and consequent necessity views.

.

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 39. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be man?

A. It was requisite that the Mediator should be man, that he might advance our nature,[h] perform obedience to the law,[i] suffer and make intercession for us in our nature,[k] have a fellow-feeling of our infirmities;[l] that we might receive the adoption of sons,[m] and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace.[n]

[h] Heb. 2:16
[i] Gal. 4:4
[k] Heb. 2:14; Heb. 7:24,25
[l] Heb. 4:15
[m] Gal. 4:5
[n] Heb. 4:16

Q. 40. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God and man in one person?

A. It was requisite that the Mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should himself be both God and man, and this in one person, that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us,[o] and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person.[p]

[o] Matt. 1:21,23; Matt. 3:17Heb. 9:14
[p] 1 Pet. 3:6

.

Commentaries on Westminster Larger Catechism #39-40

1700’s

Ridgley, Thomas – pp. 485-9  in ‘Why the Mediator Required to be God & Man’  in A Body of Divinity…  (d. 1734; NY: Robert Carter, 1855), vol. 1

This was the first commentary published on the Larger Catechism, being a series of sermons through it.  Ridgley (1667-1734) was a reformed, English Independent, who was the assistant and successor of Thomas Gouge in London.

.

1900’s

Vos, Johannes – The Westminster Larger Catechism, a Commentary  ed. G.I. Williamson  Buy  originally written 1946-49

Vos was a mid-western pastor in the RPCNA.

.

2000’s

Morecraft, Joe – Authentic Christianity: An Exposition of the Theology & the Ethics of the Westminster Larger Catechism, 5 vols.  Buy   (2009)

Morecraft has been a pastor in the RPCUS.

Moeck, Gregory – Westminster Larger Catechism Lecture Notes  2015-2020  These are handout notes to his weekly Larger Catechism class in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

39a, ‘The nature of natural theology, and its need for advancement or perfection by grace’  8 pp.

39b, ‘How our nature is advanced by grace and prepared for the beatific vision’  10 pp.

39c, ‘The Fittingness of the Incarnation as The Means of Advancing Mankind’s Nature’  7 pp.

39d, ‘The Humanity Of Christ & Our Participation In His Sonship’  7 pp.

39e, ‘Merit, Christ’s Human Nature & the Law – Part I’  8 pp.

39f, ‘Merit, Christ’s Human Nature & The Law – Part II’  7 pp.

39g, ‘Merit, Christ’s Human Nature & The Law – Part III’  7 pp.

39h, ‘Merit, Christ’s Human Nature & The Law – Part IV’  8 pp.

39i, ‘The Passible Flesh Of The Impassible God’  11 pp.

40, ‘Two Natures, One Person => Two Operations, One Action’  7 pp.

.

.

.

Related Pages