The Marrow Controversy and Tolerant Calvinism Part 3: Did the Apostles Teach Limited Atonement in Acts?

Acts 2:33 . . . and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit . . .

Acts 26:6-8 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

The promise of the Holy Spirit and the promise of resurrection; two promises the apostles say in the book of Acts were made to the fathers and to which the twelve tribes hoped to attain. The fulfillment of these promises were both contingent upon Christ’s death.

Who were the promises made to? The fathers (meaning those patriarchs who were in the faith).   The promises were not made to everyone. They were not made to the Egyptians. They were not made to the Babylonians.  They were not made to Persians, the Greeks or the Romans.  They were not even made to all the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ishmael and Esau, for example).

Rather, the promises which were contingent upon Christ’s death were made only to the fathers, and then as it was revealed later, to all those who have the same faith as the fathers.  If Christ died for everyone, then His death for everyone to whom the promises was NOT made was a pointless death, because it wrought nothing for those to whom the promises were not made.  To insist God has a secret will to deliver the promises to everyone to whom the promises were not made is to call Him a liar.  Christ did not die to make the promises available to everyone. He died in order to deliver the promises to those to whom the promises were made.

The apostles most certainly did preach limited atonement in the book of Acts. The atonement Christ made was for the sins of those to whom the promises were made!  Anyone who denies this is a liar, and anyone who insists that those who deny it are brothers are themselves also liars.


About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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3 Responses to The Marrow Controversy and Tolerant Calvinism Part 3: Did the Apostles Teach Limited Atonement in Acts?

  1. markmcculley says:

    Mark Jones—Is it possible to question the Marrow today without being accused of being neonomian? Boston had reservations about the conditionality of the covenant of grace, but pretty much every orthodox Reformed theologian I have read affirmed the conditionality of the covenant of grace .. in describing how faith is an antecedent condition for receiving the benefits of the covenant. They had to in order to ward off the Antinomian view that faith was not a condition for receiving the benefits of Christ.

    Mark Jones—-I know Boston and his friends did not think the Marrow taught hypothetical universalism. And many scholars try with all their might to avoid the implications of this thought, but I simply cannot see how we can deny that the Marrow teaches hypothetical universalism….Culverwell, whom Fisher quotes in the Marrow in relation to the Fee Offer, held to Hypothetical Universalism (Ussher convinced him).

    Mark Jones—-No particularist at that point in Reformed history) would be comfortable with the language used by Fisher. That later particularists in Scotland aren’t uncomfortable with Fisher’s language is a very interesting historical point.

    Mark Jones—The Marrow Men ended up fighting a battle in order to defend the Auchterarder Creed.—-“It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.” … Witsius, the so-called “middle-man” in the Antinomian-Neonomian debates that emerged in the latter part of the seventeenth century, asks whether repentance precedes the remission of sins. Does sorrow for sin precede justification as a disposing condition, prerequisite in the subject? An awakened sinner will, in his experience, have a previous (or, concomitant/accompanying) hatred for sin and purpose of a new life before receiving Christ.

  2. markmcculley says:

    The Marrow is four way conversation between a new Christian,a legalist, an antinomian, and a preacher of the true gospel.

    “The legalist narrates his progressively deepening understanding of the law’s demands, from focusing on consistency in devotional practices and visible behavioral reform; to focusing on rigorous self-examination and confession of sin; to discovering deeper flaws in his obedience as well as the self-centeredness of his motivation.

    “Yet at every state the legalist reports that preachers reassured him that his accomplishment and attendance were sufficient and should satisfy his conscience. The last preacher he consulted told him: do what you have done, trying to keep the law perfectly, and in what you cannot do, God will accept the will for the deed, and where you come short, Christ will help you out.” Dennis Johnson, p422, Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry

    The way they say it today: there are no carnal Christians, but you are not a carnal Christian, if 1. you agree with me that there are no carnal Christians and 2. you don’t want to sin.

  3. markmcculley says:

    Schilder’s doctrine of “the covenant” is still very much in force today.

    These paedobaptists do not think they are even talking about antinomian presumption vs neonomian presumption. They think they are only talking about credobaptists being inconsistent when they pray with children they have not yet watered.

    Lee Irons—“Mark Jones fails to mention this, but the treatise by Flavel wasn’t on justification but was part of a debate over paedobaptism. Philip Cary, the credobaptist, had argued that the new covenant or the gospel covenant is absolute or unconditional—a position that was even held by some paedobaptists, most notably John Owen. Flavel disagrees and argues that the gospel covenant is conditional upon faith. I happen to agree with the paedobaptist (Flavel) against the credobaptist (Cary) in this particular debate.

    Lee Irons—“Flavel’s entire discussion of the various meanings of the word “condition” has to do with paedo- vs. credo-baptist debates over covenant theology, e.g., questions like whether the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision was the same in substance with the new or gospel covenant, and whether the new or gospel covenant is conditional. The precise question of the role of faith (instrumental vs. conditional) in justification is not directly in view (although justification is mentioned several times and Flavel… argues that faith is a condition in the obvious sense that it is necessary for justification).”

    We just wanted to talk about the baptists being legalists. We did not want to get into internal debates between paedobaptists about the nature of the covenants and and the law-gospel antithesis. Mark Jones thinks antinomianism is what we need to worry about, but not many paedobaptists (who are not dutch) think that saying “some of the non-elect begin in the new covenant” leads to “flattening” and a denial of the the antithesis between conditionality on the sinner and conditionality on Christ alone.

    Norman Shepherd—“John 15 is often taught by distinguishing two kinds of branches. Some branches are not really in Christ in a saving way. Some are only in Him externally…The words outward and inward are often used in the Reformed community…to account for the fact that the covenant community includes both elect and non-elect. But when Paul uses the terms Romans 2:28-29 , he is not referring to the elect and non-elect. The terms define the difference between covenantally loyal Jews and disobedient transgressors of the law.”

    Scott Clark –The term covenant of grace can be used broadly and narrowly. When used broadly, it refers to everyone who is baptized into the Christ confessing covenant community. When used narrowly, it refers to those who have received the double benefit of Christ: justification and sanctification. Used in the broader sense, the covenant of grace is not synonymous with election so that all the elect are in the covenant of grace, but not all in the covenant of grace are elect.
    Used in the narrow sense, the covenant of grace refers only to the elect.The internal/external distinction is a corollary of the distinction between the church considered visibly and invisibly.”

    Mike Horton—“God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. … The word proclaimed and sealed in the sacraments is valid, regardless of our response….To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse.”

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