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Richard Watson on the Extent of the Atonement and the word “World”

Esteemed Arminian theologian Richard Watson offers five points regarding the extent of the atonement and the use of the word “world” and the Calvinist argument that the word means “the elect out of the world.”  Watson gives the following points:

It is equally impracticable to restrict the phrases, the world, the whole world, and to paraphrase them the world of the elect: and yet there is no other alternative; for either the whole world means those elected out of it; or else Christ died in an equal sense for every man. God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, &c. Here, if the world mean not the elect only, but every man, then every man was so loved by God, that he gave his own Son for his redemption. To say that the world, in a few places, means the Roman empire, and in others Judea, is nothing to the purpose, unless it were meant to affirm, that the elect were the people of Judea, or those of the Roman empire only. It proves, it is true, a hyperbolical use of the term in both instances; but this cannot be urged in the case before us: for,

1. The elect are never called the world in Scripture; but are distinguished from it. I have chosen you out of the world; therefore the world hateth you.

2. The common division of mankind, in the New Testament, is only into two parts; the disciples of Christ, and the world. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own. Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.

3. When the redemption of Christ is spoken of, it often includes both those who had been chosen out of the world, and those who remained still of the world. And you hath he reconciled, say the apostles to those that had already believed; and as to the rest, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed to us the word of reconciliation, plainly that they might beseech this world to be reconciled to God: so that both believers and unbelievers were interested in the reconciling ministry, and the work of Christ. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only; but also for the sins of the whole world: words cannot make the case plainer than these, since this same writer, in the same epistle, makes it evident bow he uses the term world, when he affirms that the world lieth in wickedness, in contradistinction to those who knew that they were of GOD.

4. In the general commission before quoted, the expression world is connected with universal terms which carry it forth into its utmost latitude of meaning. Go ye into ALL the world, and preach the Gospel (the good news) to every creature; and this too in order to his believing it, that he may be saved; he that believeth shall be saved; and he that believeth not (this good news preached to him that he might be saved) shall be damned.

5. All this is confirmed from the gross absurdity of this restricted interpretation when applied to several of the foregoing passages. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoso. ever believeth in him should not perish. Now, if the world here means the elect world, or the elect not yet called out of it, then it is affirmed, that whosoever, of this elect body, believeth shall not perish; which plainly implies, that some of the elect might not believe, and therefore perish, contrary to their doctrine. This absurd consequence is still clearer from the verses which immediately follow. John iii, 17, 18, For God sent not his Son into the world, to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already. Now here we must take the term world, either extensively for all mankind or limitedly for the elect. If the former, then all men through him may be saved, but only through faith: he therefore, of this world that believeth may be saved; but he of this world that believeth not is condemned already. The sense is here plain and consistent; but if, on the other hand, we take the world to mean the elect only, then he of this elect world that believeth may be saved, and he of the elect world that believeth not is condemned; so that the restricted interpretation necessarily supposes, that elect persons may remain in unbelief, and be lost. The same absurdity will follow from a like interpretation of the general commission. Either all the world and every creature, mean every man, or the elect only. If the former, it follows, that he of this world, any individual among those included in the phrase, every creature, who believes, shall be saved, or, not believing, shall be damned: if the latter, then he of the elect, any individual of the elect, who believes, shall be saved, and any individual of the elect who believes not, shall be damned. Similar absurdities might be brought out from other passages; but if these are candidly weighed, it will abundantly appear, that texts so plain and explicit cannot be turned into such Consequences by any true method of interpretation, and that they must, therefore, be taken in their obvious sense, which unequivocally expresses the universality of the atonement.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/15/2012 at 10:00 AM

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