Monday, August 28, 2017

Scriptural View of the Atonement: a Review, of Sorts

Cyrus White, A Scriptural View of the Atonement, Milledgeville, GA: Office of the Statesman & Patriot, 1830. Page references are to the copy I own, a reprint from 2010 by the Georgia Free Will Baptist Historical Society (24 pages; original book was 19 pages). This is a reprint of an original book held at Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia. “Due diligence was maintained to reproduce Rev. White’s original work intact including his writing style. Only the size of the lettering was enlarged for ease of reading. A copy of his original work is on file in the Georgia Free Will Baptist Historical Archives.”

Cyrus White was undoubtedly a well-known, popular and effective minister among the Baptists of Georgia. He was, with Jesse Mercer, one of the ministers involved in organizing the General Association in Georgia in 1822 (now the Georgia Baptist Convention). He served as an evangelist of this association. In 1830 Cyrus White made quite a splash among Georgia Baptists when he published his booklet, A Scriptural View of the Atonement. His “scriptural view” was different from the “scriptural view” of the majority of Georgia Baptists. In the “Introduction” (dated December 8, 1829) White gives 3 reasons for issuing this pamphlet: his view had been misrepresented; some orderly church members has been “excluded from their Churches” for believing in a full atonement (as opposed to a limited atonement); and he believed limited atonement was an error with serious consequences – particularly telling sinners no provision was made for them rather than commanding them to “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.”

The theme of this book on the view of the atonement is 1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. White divides his presentation into two parts: the nature of the atonement and the extent of the atonement. The nature of the atonement – a sacrifice necessary in order for God to pardon, to satisfy God’s justice and render God propitious; and the atonement made not in view of debt, but in view of law, in which Jesus’s death is “considered a full satisfaction of it” -- is a brief presentation to provide the foundation for the bulk of the booklet, which is about the extent of the atonement.

White argues positively and negatively to prove his view of the extent of the atonement. If I mistake not, his preferred terminology for his belief is “full atonement.” In the negative, he argues against what he calls the limited scheme, sometimes investigating the sense of verses when the word “elect” is substituted for the word “world” (e.g. John 3:16, p. 7). In the positive, White presents “a few plain texts of Scripture [that] ought to be thought sufficient” (p. 6) – such as John 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 1:29; 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 2:9; and 1 Corinthians 5:14-15.

White’s position is that “JESUS has made full satisfaction to law and justice” (p. 9). He believes that full atonement is implied in the invitations of the Gospel (p. 18). The unjust are subject to Christ in the bodily resurrection and judgment, indicating they are accountable to him (p. 20). “The fullness of the atonement no more depends upon those who receive an application of it, than the fullness of a river depends upon the number of those who drink of its waters. The belief or unbelief of the world effects not the atonement; it is like a river or sea, full, whether they believe it or not” (p. 20). White concludes his booklet with a plea to sinners “to fly to the outstretched arms of a bleeding SAVIOUR” (p. 24). Cyrus White writes with a plain and distinct style, depending on exposition of Scripture as opposed to explaining and defending a systematized theology. Whether or not readers agree with him, they should be able to understand his belief system. It flatly denies a limited “scheme” of the atonement and promotes an unlimited “scheme” (one which I more commonly refer to as “general provision”). It is much easier to follow than Jesse Mercer’s more complicated reply.

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