1795 – 1862
Symington was a major nineteenth century Scottish theologian, from the Reformed Presbyterian church. He wrote numerous foundational works including Messiah the Prince, The Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ, amongst others.
The Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ, pp. 209-214, this quote was compiled by Andrew Myers.
We contend for the unlimited extent of the Gospel call, and regard every attempt to restrict it as hostile alike to the letter and the spirit of the Gospel. Here we take the phrases ‘every creature’ – ‘all the world’ – ‘every one’ – ‘whosoever will,’ etc., in the fullest extent of acceptation of which they will admit. The ministers of religion ought to esteem it a privilege and a pleasure, not less than a duty, to be permitted, as ambassadors for Christ, beseechingly to say to all who come within reach of their voice, ‘We pray you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ [2 Cor. 5:20] Nor is it denied that the general invitations of the Gospel rest, as their basis, on the atonement of Jesus Christ. ‘We pray you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God, for he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin.’ ‘All things are ready — come unto the marriage.’ We do not pretend to be able to remove every difficulty, connected with the reconcilableness of the unrestricted offer of salvation and particular redemption. The subject involves all the difficulties connected with the profound abyss of the divine decrees, which it is not for short-sighted man to pretend ability to fathom. If we can only say what may be sufficient to nullify the objection, to show the unreasonableness of cavillers, or to remove the perplexity of humble inquirers, we shall not come short of our aim. With these views, we beg to submit, with all deference, the following considerations.
It would not be a sufficient reason for rejecting, either the doctrine of a definite atonement, or that of an unlimited Gospel call, that we found it impossible to reconcile them with one another. That we are incapable of reconciling them does not prove them to be irreconcilable. God may be capable of reconciling them; creatures of a higher intellectual and moral rank may see their reconcilableness; or we ourselves, when elevated to a brighter sphere of being, may yet be fully equal to the difficult problem. Their perfect consistency with one another, is not the ground on which we are required to believe either the one or the other. This ground is, with regard to both, the testimony of God in his word. To this testimony we must yield implicit submission, and we must beware of the daring presumption of refusing to receive what God has made known, because of its appearing to our reason either unintelligible in itself, or inconsistent with some other acknowledged dictate of inspiration.
The principles of human obligation are not affected by the secret will of God. What man ought to do, is one thing; what God will do, is another thing. Now, the Gospel call may be regarded as expressive of man’s duty, rather than of the divine intention. God may, and does command many things, which He knows the persons commanded will never fulfill. These things it is the duty of man to do, but it is not the secret will of God to accomplish. By the warnings, and remonstrances, and solemn admonitions of Noah, He called the antidiluvians [those before the flood] to repent, and be saved from the waters of the deluge [flood]; and that it was their duty to do so, is not surely disproved by what we now know, from the fact, that it was not the secret design of God to save them. By means of his servant Moses, God commanded Pharaoh to let Israel go, as a means of saving his own life and those of his people; it was his duty certainly to obey this command; but it was not the secret intention of God that the Egyptians and their king should escape the destruction of the Red Sea. The Jews and Roman soldiers were under obligation, from the command ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ not to put Jesus of Nazareth to death; yet it was in consequence of being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, that He was taken, and by wicked hands crucified and slain. In like manner, may we not say, that the unlimited offer of the Gospel proves only that it is the duty of all men to believe in Christ for salvation, and not that it is the design or intention of God that all should be saved by him, or that He should obtain salvation for all.
The unlimited nature of the Gospel call necessarily results from God’s plan of salvation. It is God’s method to save men by faith. With his reasons for so doing we are not at present concerned. It is enough for us to know, that ‘it hath pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them which believe.’ Now, to this the unrestricted offer of Christ is essential, as otherwise men could have no warrant for faith. The warrant of faith is the testimony of God in the Gospel. And, it may be asked, could not this testimony have been made only to those to whom it was his design to give grace to receive it? We answer, — not, without doing away with that mixed state of human existence, which God has appointed for important purposes; — not, without making a premature disclosure of who are the objects of his special favor, and who are not, to the entire subversion of that moral economy, under which it is the good pleasure of his will that men should subsist in this world; — not, without even subverting the very design of salvation by faith. For, on this supposition, the very communicating of the divine testimony to any one would amount to a virtual intimation of his own personal salvation; it would make that salvation as sure as it could possibly be made ; and where, in this case, would there be room for that faith which is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen? Thus does it appear, that, if God should choose to save some of the human family by faith in the Gospel message, it is necessary to this design that the publication of this message, be universal. We must either deny that God has a right to save any by means of faith in the Gospel — and who are they that will take upon them thus to limit the Holy One of Israel? — or admit that an unrestricted Gospel offer is perfectly consistent and indispensable.
The objection we are considering militates as directly against the limited application, as against the restricted intention, of Christ’s atonement. It is asked, how can God offer to all salvation by Christ, if this salvation has not been purchased for all? We ask, on the same principle, how can God offer to all salvation by Christ, when, even supposing it purchased, it is his intention not to confer it on all? And when our opponents have given a satisfactory reply to the latter question, we shall have no difficulty whatever in replying to the former. A designed limited application, which our opponents admit, affords no broader a basis for the universal offer, than a designed limited purchase. The difficulty is only, by this means, shifted a step forward, where it presses, not only with all its original weight, but with that of other encumbrances which it has gathered in its progress.