Tag Archives: An Essay on Redemption: Being the Second Part of Divine Rectitude

Untangling “Predestination” — Part 5

Those who have been following this blog site will already be aware of the fuller context concerning God’s premial justice and, in turn, the premial Atonement, into which this treatment of “predestination” is getting unceremoniously dropped. When I started this analysis back in 2008, I had not yet read the brief but trenchantly argued treatise from 1741, An Essay on Redemption: Being the Second Part of Divine Rectitude (104 pages), by John Balguy, who first coined the term “premial” (please see my “About” page at the top of this site, along with the first couple of blogs, where I quote at length the passage containing the only two instances of the new word). I first read the book in late January of 2011, so never used ‘premial’ in this exploration of predestination. Nevertheless, the contents were fully in accord with Balguy’s use of the word, so his label nicely covered the contents regardless.

Therefore, it will not be inappropriate to poise my results more precisely within the context of the premial Atonement perspective which I have already elaborated in this blog site. Readers will know that the apostolic take on the Atonement that I simply label “premial” is free of those several “penal” elements now so commonly assumed by conservative evangelical Protestants and gathered under the rubric “penal substitution” or “penal satisfaction.” This latter position was most fully developed within Calvinism, and is in fact its most characteristic doctrine, although other Protestant traditions share significant elements as well. However the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” have amplified them at greatest length. And among these, “the doctrine of predestination” was simply embedded within “Unconditional Election.”

I have tried to show on this blog site that Penal Substitution logic is stretched entirely on an economic framework of logic that is qualified penally. This is decidedly not the framework of the New Testament explanation of the Atonement, nor, for that matter, of Justification or Reconciliation either, which do, however, likewise draw upon legal language, and thus are jeopardized no less by penal pretensions and impositions.

The fact that every one of the Five Points bears the marks of abuse by stretching on this punitive ‘rack’ will raise the presumptive expectation that what Calvinists do with “predestination” will bear the same marks of torture. Sure enough. “Predestination” is said to be necessary because a “sovereign” God’s plan to pay/satisfy for the debt of sins incurred by a limited number of chosen/elect—for to pay for the sins of all mankind would be uneconomical, hence unfitting for a prudent Sovereign—can only seem plausible on the premise that sins/debts must be paid for by someone, in any case, without fail, in other words: by a Penal Substitute. Such “prudential” logic may be worthy of a for-profit, self-aggrandizing, client-deceiving insurance behemoth; it is unworthy of a God who is Our Rock, who indemnified the whole population without exception, for the sake of His own grand reputation and Brand Name!

We have shown throughout this site that this particular construal of economic metaphors and concepts is not to be found in the Bible. Sin (even as “debt”) is never said to be “paid [for]at all. Indeed, it is exclusively the saints or believers that are said to be bought and paid for. However, their faith itself is their own willful contribution to salvation, turning as it does on their natural (and not “fallen” as such!) human response to the necessary but not sufficient testimony of Holy Writ, which requires getting “blended together with faith in those who hear” (Hebrews 4:2) in order to achieve its intended beneficial outcome. To be sure, this evidence does powerfully evoke or induce faith, but does not “guarantee” faith. This process happily accords with God’s graciousness (Romans 4:16), which, in fact, enhances and fosters human sovereignty, authority, judgment/decision-making, and choice, even if it should happen to result in a rebuff of His gentle advances. God is all about “inviting” folks to the Party of the Kingdom.

Nevertheless, as we know, comparatively few are chosen—only those who exert their own self-authorized faculty of faith—which even as Calvin so validly declared, is simply the outstretched hand (not the laboring hand, mind you!), ready to receive the Gift God is handing out.  That Gift is most emphatically not faith; that Gift is the Holy Spirit itself, which could not consequently show up early (“preveniently”) in order to create the very faith by which itself is thereupon received. The logical incoherence of such a contention should be perfectly clear. My refutation does not exclude, however (as was the burden of my above paper), that a Book inspired by the Holy Spirit may precede faith and perform the honors, without any incoherence or contradiction. (That, in particular, was the burden of my preceding “Appendix.”)

The premial justice of God is directed upon the blameless Defendant to exonerate and then repay him due restitution for his painful labors of love on behalf of the whole blamed (!) world of sinful humanity. However, no quid pro quo equivalence of “pain for pay” characterized the transaction. It was purely gratuitous, which is not to say “wasted,” but simply rationally appropriate to the intended outcome, without overreach or shortfall. It hit its mark precisely: “Now if anyone is loving God, this one gets known by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:3).

This premial rationale relieves theology of any burden to “limit” the divine outlay of beneficence or graciousness to one that accords with alleged economic rationality, much less to economic penury! After all, what the Lord Jesus Christ procured was a prize, booty, spoils, winnings, judicial damages, just deserts, not an “equivalent payment” or “commercial exchange” of any sort, as I have been at great pains to establish in this blog site from the very beginning.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.                   —Annie J. Flint

This was in full satisfaction, if you will, of “the righteousness/justice of God,” as Paul was at even greater pains to establish in his epistle to the Roman believers, but which the Protestant Reformation, at yet more (and needless) pains accidently—let’s be charitable here—sabotaged in favor of a convoluted pretzel of a doctrine: Paul meant rewarding (premial) justice dispensed directly to Christ (who deserved it), thence graciously distributed for free to us (who did not deserve it) by our faith and baptism (i.e., by inclusion in Christ); Luther, et al, meant punitive (penal) justice distributed to us (who deserved it) indirectly through Christ (who did not deserve it) by his substitution. The difference between these alternatives for Christian behavior and mental stability is immense.

Perhaps we need to ponder more deeply the fact that a reward can be distributed at the good pleasure if its legitimate recipient, irrespective of particular “merits” possessed by any subsequent recipients chosen. A penalty/punishment, however, cannot be thus “freely” distributed; that would be immoral and illegal. Yet penal substitution doctrine is based squarely on this latter indefensible premise, and usually even glories in it!

The premial position, we can see, comports with a faith that is exocentric (focused on an outside object) and authentically voluntary, not an “act/work” at all, but simply proper reliance on credible evidence and testimony (so not coerced), and which ultimately comports with an election that is conditional on such faith and, by reflex, with a destiny that is potentially alienable. However, the divine ambience suffusing this perspective is as different from the effluvium of penal substitution as a loaf of bread is from a stone, or a fish is from a serpent, or an egg is from a scorpion, or a REWARD is from a PUNISHMENT.  That is, as opposite as might well be imagined.

The premial framework allows the weaving of a startlingly contrasting systematic pattern of salvation across the board. This, naturally, affects all the familiar “points” of Calvinism: all alike collapse in the absence of the mortar of penal economic necessity. The premial universe is one in which an inheritance in the Kingdom of God is free…but must be claimed with steady expectation as a right of believing children of God answering to God’s promises in His own Words, contracted by Covenant—the Bible.

The premial world is one in which sin is not passed along generationally (needing to be washed away in baptism, even from infants), nor so pervasive or perverse as to make faith impossible without the prosthetic of adventitious “regeneration” to trigger it.

The premial universe is one in which Atonement is universal and plenty powerful for its appointed objective of nurturing lovers of God, but without arm-twisting others. Élégance!

In a premial cosmos, graciousness, appealing and fetching as it may be, does not act so unseemly as to make its drawing influence irresistible as a magic spell. No spellbinding here, only the spell of unforced love. “Prevenient grace” is an encumbering artifice that ought to be perceived as an insult to the grace of Christ’s resurrection, the plain bold Report of which turned that ancient civilization upside down within decades!

A premial reality is one in which believers press on toward God’s impending Kingdom impelled by the covenantal promises and warnings of God’s living Explanation, producing rich fruits of Christ’s personality to encourage others in faith and, reflexively, secure one’s own confidence and delight in the faith once for all drop-shipped to the saints of planet earth.

In a premial creation, the dark oppressive clouds of graphically visualized punishment, wrath, and condemnation poured out on a perfectly innocent, though willing (as if he “needed” to be!) victim so as to satisfy the demanding justice of God (thereby impugning justice wholesale as exclusively penally retributive), is lifted and dispelled, permitting the cheering rays of divine benignity to burst forth and bless earth’s shores.

In a premial civilization, the repugnant spectacle of Christians playing in the dung heap of sordid pleasures, toying with the profane, venal options our culture places on the bottom shelf of easy accessibility with the click of a wayward mouse—all these pleasures of Egypt would lose their glamor under their deceptive marketing as “harmless diversions for the unconditionally elect” and be discerned for the mortal perils they are.

In a premial galaxy, the affecting sight of many a seasoned churchgoer manifesting pathological anxiety concerning their destiny as a child of God, presenting the watching world with an oddly ambiguous, if not highly unsettling testimony to the comforting certitudes of the Gospel as advertised, should be as rare as jellyfish fossils.

In short, the premial justice of God manifested supremely in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from among the mouldering dead to proliferating immortality, agrees to perfection with the heralding of an endless sparkling destiny as children of God, privileged to inherit a whole New Creation, starting with Christ’s resurrected body and proceeding to incorporate all others who believe and get immersed in him by his Holy Spirit. The fundamental heart of the New Testament Proclamation is not, therefore, “penal substitution” but “premial inclusion,” in an inconceivably marvelous destiny as “priests and kings” on the New Earth a comin’! Having announced such a future with abundant corroboration, God leaves the choice up to us whether we wish to join the Party or keep our unsafe distance and sadly perish.

June 2, 6, 8-9, 2017

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The Rationale for a Premial Redemption

For my second blog post, I share the stage with John Balguy (1686-1748), who appears to have coined the word “premial,” although it never caught on.  He derived it from the Latin verb premiare, “to stipulate for a reward.”  I have Timothy Gorringe to thank for citing Balguy in his superbly engrossing, though dauntingly documented, God’s Just Vengeance:  Crime, Violence, and the Rhetoric of Salvation (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 170-72.  It makes a vital contribution to our understanding of the societal effects of the penal substitution doctrine of atonement.  (See my link to Gorringe in the long list at the right.)

Briefly, Balguy was born in Sheffield and educated at Cambridge.  He regretted wasting nearly two years reading romances before coming across Livy’s history, which prompted his pleasure in serious studies.  After graduation he taught a while before entering the Anglican ministry in 1711.  He was a talented writer (no thanks to romances?), which he directed at first to sermons and soon to controversial defenses of religious freedom amid ecclesiastical disputes.  He wrote a number of esteemed defenses of contemporaries, then more philosophical works about moral virtue and the role of Christian Scripture.  In 1730 he published his substantial Divine Rectitude; or, a brief Inquiry concerning the moral Perfections of the Deity, particularly in respect of Creation and Providence, in which he argued the superiority of “rectitude” to “benevolence” in explaining God’s governance of the universe.  Then he indulged in polemical writing against deists, as was common during that era.  Finally, in 1741 he published An Essay on Redemption:  Being the Second Part of Divine Rectitude, of barely a hundred pages (and after that a single volume of sermons, among which “Of Revenge” has insights bearing on atonement).  A second edition appeared posthumously in 1785 with a valuable preface by his son, Thomas, that tackled certain objections arising during the intervening four decades.

Balguy’s philosophical treatise on rectitude well prepared him for introducing his elegantly balanced articulation of double-faceted justice–premial as well as penal.  His view of atonement, or “redemption,” proved appealing enough to recur in somewhat altered form in the able work of Dr. John Taylor of Norwich, later in the century.  But enough of history; now down to riveting theology!

In the following excerpt, I’ll quote the context of Balguy’s only two uses of “premial” (which I put in boldface).  This exercise, of course, is intended to highlight the value of reviving the term for contemporary discourse.  I’ll venture some adjustments toward current American capitalization, spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, verse citation, etc.  With apologies for its length, I commend this remarkable passage for its advance toward clarifying the nature of God’s restorative justice or premial “rectitude” on behalf of our redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ.  As should be clear, although a bare start, this approach has resounding implications for our re-understanding of both atonement and justification.

“I shall…return to the pursuit and discussion of the main point….  I mean the manner and method of our being redeemed from the guilt, or to speak more properly, the penalties of sin….  As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous [Rom. 5:19].  Made sinners, and made righteous, in more senses than one:  but in whatever sense the words be understood, the correspondence holds, and the contrast is visible.

“The former of these dispensations has been already explained and vindicated, and the latter remains to be now set in a clear light, which perhaps is all that is needful to be done in its defense and justification.  Vicarious punishment appears an utter impossibility.  And if vicarious suffering does not imply or amount to the same thing, it is to me altogether unintelligible.  That by a supposed commutation of persons Christ should become our substitute for proxy and, as such, endured evils inflicted on account of our sins, seems to me at least running into needless obscurity and wrapping up a plain doctrine in clouds and darkness.  If Adam was our substitute, our representative in sinning, then might it be allowed that Christ was the same in suffering.  Or if we could be punished for Adam’s transgression, then Christ might be supposed, by the same rule, to be punished for ours.  But whoever disowns the former of these doctrines will unavoidably be obliged to give up the latter.

“The great question then remaining to be considered is how redemption was practicable according to the principles and concessions here laid down.  It has already been granted, and even maintained, that neither sin, nor demerit, nor punishment can possibly be transferred, because they are personal.  And are not righteousness and merit and reward equally personal, and therefore equally nontransferable?  I both own the premises and allow the conclusion and yet cannot find any just cause to be in pain about either.  I readily acknowledge that, strictly speaking, it is altogether impossible that men should be either made sinners or righteous by the act and deed of other persons, and no less repugnant to truth that they should be either punished or rewarded for good or evil actions in which they themselves had no hand.  The great purposes of redemption may, I hope, be fully answered without any recourse to such suppositions.  Let it but be allowed that the first Adam deserved the sentence and punishment inflicted on him, and that the last Adam, the Lamb that was slain [Rev. 5:12], merited a high reward and was truly worthy to receive honor, and power, and glory, and blessing, as we find them ascribed to him in Scripture, and I apprehend these data will be sufficient for the vindication of either doctrine.

“By submitting to take our nature upon him, even under the greatest discouragements and disadvantages, in the lowest form and the most unwelcome condition; by humbling himself still lower and patiently enduring the greatest hardships, indignities, and distresses; by indefatigably seeking and promoting from first to last the glory of God and the benefit of mankind; but more especially by becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [Phil. 2:8], our Redeemer was unquestionably most meritorious, in the sense above explained.  To perfect innocence he joined the most extensive benevolence and the most exalted virtue, and thereby became entitled to the highest honor and most distinguished reward.  So far, here is a perfect agreement with truth and rectitude, without all question and beyond all objection.  That the reward conferred on him no way interfered with right and truth but, on the contrary, was most proper and suitable in all respects, most worthy of the Giver and most acceptable to the Receiver, will be my business to show after we have inquired wherein it consisted.

“Besides the exaltation of Christ and the accessions of power and dignity expressly mentioned in Scriptures, there is clearly implied, and sometimes expressed in conjunction therewith, a reward of a different nature.  I mean that very remission of sins, or release of sinners, which is the subject of our present inquiry:  their deliverance from the bonds of sin and death, and the restoration of immortality.  This we are apt to miscall our reward, and to look upon it as such;  but I must beg leave to assert and maintain that, strictly speaking, it is not our reward but our Redeemer’swhom God hath exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins [Acts 5:31].  He merited by his obedience and suffering this glorious and sublime reward, and obtained it accordingly, and that with the utmost truth and propriety….

“That our redemption is really the effect of Christ’s sufferings or, in other words, that Christ’s sufferings are the real and meritorious cause of our redemption, I acknowledge and maintain.  And it must be allowed that this is the very substance of the doctrine and all that can be reputed essential to it….  The present question is whether the accomplishment of our redemption is to be considered as penal or premial, whether as resulting from a vicarious punishment, or a personal reward….

“….When it is said that on him was laid the iniquity of us all [Isaiah 53:6], what occasion is there to understand anything further than that he suffered as really for our iniquities as if they had been his own or, in other words, that to indemnify us he endured those evils which we only had deserved?  Where we read that he was made sin, or a curse, for us [2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13], nothing more seems intended than that he, though entirely sinless, underwent an accursed death for our sakes and suffered as deeply on our account as if he had been a sinner, even the greatest of sinners.

“But why does every thing relating to our Savior’s sufferings run so much in a sacrificial strain, and in so exact a conformity with the legal expiations?  May we not infer from thence that his sufferings were strictly penal, and that he was actually substituted in our stead?….I have already acknowledged that Christ offered a real and proper sacrifice.  I own and contend that he gave himself an offering to God [Eph. 5:2] in order to accomplish our redemption.  He was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world [1 John 2:2], that is, by his meritorious death and sufferings he procured for all penitents the remission of their sins and their reconciliation with God.  But I cannot see the necessity of supposing that in all respects, and in every circumstance, the Christian sacrifice must answer the Jewish, however it might be signified and prefigured thereby.  In one point they are and must be essentially different.  For how is it possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should afford a just representation of the meritorious and all-sufficient sacrifice of our Redeemer?  Hence we find the apostle distinguishing so strongly between them and expressing himself so fully in diminution of the one and exaltation of the other.

“Neither can I think it reasonable or safe to lay so great a stress on typical correspondences as is frequently done on this occasion.  A much greater stress ought, I think, to be laid not only on the reason of the thing, but on the original type and the doctrine which we have been considering, since, according to a foregoing observation, the two dispensations stand in direct opposition, and the one is represented in Scripture as the reverse of the other.  Thus, the first Adam disobeyed and transgressed, the second Adam was all innocence and obedience; the first highly demerited, the second highly merited; the first was punished, the second rewarded.  And as the effects of the former’s punishment fell upon his descendants, and occasioned the corruption of their nature as well as their mortality and misery, so the effects of the latter’s reward redounded to his subjects, producing the renovation and sanctification of their nature, immortality, and salvation.  I might have added that the former was fixed in a joyful, prosperous, and glorious situation, and yet incurred sin and guilt; the latter was placed in a scene of adversity, ignominy, and sorrow, and yet was perfectly blameless and even most meritorious.  And indeed there is scarcely any particular relating to our purpose wherein the same correspondence is not observable.  To say it holds quite through every circumstance is neither agreeable to plain fact nor to the apostle’s observation.  But it holds in so many, and the opposition is so general, as I believe affords us the best help and the clearest light for the explication of either doctrine.  And if this be true, here is an ample confirmation of the account before given.  For to suppose both the first and second Adam punished breaks in upon the rule in one of the main points and destroys the opposition.

“Before I quit this remark, I beg leave to add, in support of some foregoing observations, that as Adam’s transgression, demerit, and punishment, being all personal, could not be transmitted, so Christ’s obedience, merit, and reward, being alike personal, could not be communicated.  Nevertheless as we sustained great damage through the demerit of the former, so we might and did receive inestimable benefit through the merits of the latter.  However we might be affected by the punishment inflicted on Adam, it was really not our punishment but his; however we may be advantaged by the reward conferred upon Christ, it was truly his reward and not ours.  The benefits of redemption being supposed the same, whether it was accomplished in a premial or a penal way, it may seem perhaps, to some, a frivolous controversy that is raised about them; but if the one is repugnant to reason and rectitude, and the other perfectly consistent therewith, I presume nothing more need be said to show the importance of the inquiry.”  (Pp. 64-75.  Accessed through Early English Books Online [EEBO].)

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