Calvinism Really is the Gospel- Calvinism Preaches Particular Redemption of the Elect

March 15, 2009

Finally we have reached the last evidence offered by Spurgeon that Calvinism is the gospel, and is this one a firestarter.  I’ll just jump into what it says:

Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel if we do not preach justification by faith without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing unchangeable eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross.

Spurgeon’s last evidence that Calvinism is the gospel is that to preach the gospel one must preach the particular redemption of the elect earned by Christ’s death upon the cross.   This could not be any more hottly contested at any point in the history of Protestantism than it is today.  Not only do we largely take issue with the idea of unconditional election, the good news as we argued from evidence three, but even if we let God have that, we still want to insist that Christ nonetheless died for the redemption of all people– which is only fair, right?  I mean, if Christ did not die for all people then somehow God must be unjust or unloving or something that would make him less than God and therefore unacceptable for us to believe in.

But alas, I am willing to argue that it truly is good news, truly is gospel news, that the redemption wrought by Christ’s death is for all and only the elect.  (Of course, as I said above, we will take this elect to be the unconditionally elect from evidence three, and will not consider the elect as possibly being a conditionally elect group, who would certainly render any good news of election void.)  It is true that Calvinism teaches particular redemption of the elect (more commonly referred to as Limited Atonement, though ‘particular redemption’ carries a little more weight), so what we must do now is show where this comes from in the Bible and why such a thing is good news.

First, where does it come from?  There are several verses and several controversies surrounding places where Christ is said to be redeeming “his people” (Matthew 1.21), his “sheep” (John 10.27-30), and “the church” (Ephesians 5.25).  Now, on the whole, I think these arguments all have merit, but unless someone is willing to do the grunt work it is hard to see how these can be convincing over and against passages like 1 John 2.2.  Because of this, I like to turn to the idea of what exactly was being accomplished by the atonement, and in doing this show that there is no way to conceive of it other than its being limited in scope and particular in application.  This argument rests in analyzing the pictures of atonement given in Leviticus 16 and 17 and Hebrews 9 and 10.  You can see my full working out of this here and here

So, redemption is particular to the elect, but why is this good news?  Well, we must take this word elect for all we mean by it, namely that these are the people whom God has chosen to receive salvation and no one else, in order to truly grasp what’s being claimed.  If the elect are all and only those who will be saved then surely redemption for them in any fashion (particular or general) is good news, since it is the means by which they are reconciled to God.  However, so many are want to tell people that “God loves you and Christ died for you,” but what type of good news is that if you don’t believe, if you aren’t elect?  That Christ died for you and yet was unable to actually save you, why did he waste his time?  

The particular redemption wrought by Christ, the fact that he died for all and only the elect, all and only those who will be saved, is good news because it bears testimony to a God who is all powerful.   As J.I. Packer puts it, by viewing redemption as particular, along with election as unconditional and grace as irresistible, we see “the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind– election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit– as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly”; whereas viewing redemption generally “gives each act a different reference . . . and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them” (Introduction to The Death of Death, p.4).  Clearly only one of these stands as the genuine good news.

Thus in closing, we have demonstrated that the four evidences which Charles Spurgeon gives in his prolific quote are in fact the composite of the good news that has been “delivered to [us] as of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15.3), and each one also being a portion of the soteriological system know as Calvinism, so that therefore we can conclude what has long been argued– that Calvinism really is the gospel!