Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why are there some that go to Hell?

The following section of an article from Agape Press was previously posted on the old anti-Calvinist BaptistFire.com website, which has been out of commission for some time now, but the article may still be read from the Christian Post by following the link at the end of the quote:

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. Albert Mohler embraces traditional reformed theology, and believes that all Christians at some point must believe in limited atonement unless they are universalists.

"The question comes down to whether the atonement is limited by God's electing purpose or whether it's limited by human beings and their free decisions," Mohler explains. "I think the Scripture is very clear that God is sovereign in the process of salvation, such that God's saving work will be completed in Christ."

Instead of "limited atonement," Mohler affirms what he calls "particular redemption" -- which, he says, is based on the fact that "scripture speaks of an unconditional election of the saints in Christ, the fact that God's electing purpose is the ground of our salvation, and the fact that we are told that those who are saved are those whom God has chosen."

"Some persons would categorize that as limited atonement," he says, "but if you're going to talk about God's sovereignty and His omniscience and human responsibility, you can look at it either way."

But Dr. Elmer Towns, Liberty University co-founder and dean of the School of Religion, says Mohler does not understand the true nature of the cross.
"Jesus died for all. No man goes to hell for his sin -- people go to hell for unbelief ... they have not believed in Jesus Christ," Towns says. "Therefore, the atonement covers the sin of every person -- but that's not universalism. We must give them the message, they must believe."
[from Jim Brown, "Theologians Differ on the 'All' for Whom Christ Died"Agape Press, Jan. 13, 2003. Emphasis added.]

It is my intention in this post to carefully examine the above quote from Dr. Towns and to show why his statements are in error. At the outset, I would like to note that I fully believe that Dr. Towns' statements tend to give credibility to Universalism (the belief that every individual person who ever has or will live will also go to Heaven), but that even if everyone who follows Dr. Towns' philosophy of the atonement is as careful as he is to avoid Universalism, the direct effect of his statements on this issue is the muddling of Christians' thinking on matters of the Law, the Gospel, and how to present the Gospel to non-Christians.

Points of Agreement

From Dr. Town's statements in the above article, I would like to point out two obvious points of agreement between the position that he takes in regards to the atonement and my own position, which is represented by the above quotes from Dr. Mohler, and which I (of course) fully believe to be the biblical position.

First, I agree with Dr. Towns that the atonement provided by Christ on the Cross actually made payment for sin. This truth is clear from the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 11-18:

Now every priest stands day after day ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. He is now waiting until His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. For after He had said: This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws on their hearts, and I will write them on their minds, He adds: I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts. Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. (HCSB)

Now, the people to whom these verses actually apply are a point of disagreement between Dr. Towns and myself, as I hope to explore in some following sections, but for now, out of Christian charity, I would like to note that we seem to basically agree on the essential nature of what Christ did on the Cross: that He provided "one sacrifice for sins forever," which takes away the sins of those to whom the atonement is applied.

Secondly, Dr. Towns and I agree that not everyone will enter into heaven on the basis of Christ's atonement. Dr. Towns is not a Universalist. In fact, Dr. Towns and I agree on a basic point of fact in identifying the group that will not enter into heaven. That is, we both agree that no one who fails to believe in Christ will enter into heaven and I am sure that we agree that anyone who does, in fact, believe in Christ will certainly enter heaven.

So I would like to conclude this section by clarifying what claims I am not trying to make in this post. I am not accusing Dr. Towns of being a heretic. That he believes in the Substitutionary Atonement and that he is not a Universalist indicate to me that (from what I can discern in the little bit I have read from him) Dr. Towns is a brother in Christ.

But I would also like to stress that I firmly believe that Dr. Towns' statements, quoted above, contain gross error and that this error is deadly if left unchecked. For as the Body of Christ on earth, it is the solemn duty of every Christian to proclaim the Truth of Jesus' work on the Cross, which provides the only way of reconciliation between a holy God and sinful people. And if we allow our proclamation of Truth to become mixed with error, then we will be held accountable before God and we will cause great detriment to the spreading of His kingdom.

Now, to examine specific statements from Dr. Towns-

"...people go to hell for unbelief."

This statement by Dr. Towns is certainly true, and I made passing reference to it in the section above. People certainly go to Hell for unbelief, and no one who believes in Christ alone for their salvation will ever go to Hell. The text that Dr. Towns seems to have in mind (given the context of this statement) is the gospel account of John, chapter 3, verse 18:

Anyone who believes in Him is not judged, but anyone who does not believe is already judged, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (NASB)

Other verses also draw a direct connection between unbelief and suffering in Hell, such as:

Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 HCSB)

But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars--their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8 HCSB)

"No man goes to hell for his sin-"

With this statement, the views held by myself and Dr. Towns sharply diverge. This statement by Dr. Towns, that "no man goes to hell for his sin," is, in fact, the main reason that I felt compelled to post on this topic. For this statement is clearly contradicted by Scripture. For even in the verses listed above, Jesus makes it clear that unbelievers will "die in [their] sins." And the Apostle John prophesies, listing unbelief with other sins for which people will be judged and sent to "the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." So people do go to Hell for their sins. Unbelievers die in their sins and suffer the second death, for "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23a), and unbelief itself is a sin.

John Owen, in his book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), addressed the exact assertion raised by Dr. Towns above:

Why are not all free from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, 'Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.' But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins? Let them choose which part they will.

"Jesus died for all."

By this statement, Dr. Towns means to say, "the atonement covers the sin of every person." But the Bible clearly limits the intended extent of the atonement in passages such as the following (NASB, with emphasis added):

By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke {was due?} (Isaiah 53:8)

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see {it and} be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify 
the many, As He will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)

"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save 
His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)

just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom 
for many." (Matthew 20:28)

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed 
His people." (Luke 1:68)

"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for 
the sheep. (John 10:11)

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved 
His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to 
all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. (John 17:1-2)

Christ redeemed 
us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"-- (Galatians 3:13)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved 
the church and gave Himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25)

And in the section of Hebrews previously quoted, we are told:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14 HCSB)

By this verse, we know who is directly impacted by Christ's offering on the Cross- "those who are sanctified"- and we also know there is a promise given to all those who are sanctified by this offering- that of being perfected- and this promise is so certain that it is spoken of in the past tense- "He has perfected..." The only group to whom these phrases apply are believers, who are also known as the elect (Luke 18:7, Romans 8:23, Titus 1:1, etc.). These phrases, and therefore the offering of Christ on the Cross, do not apply to anyone else.

That "All" Does Not Always Mean "All"

Reading the above verses, some may offer an objection. Some may ask, "Aren't there verses that say that Christ died for the sins of all men." A primary text in this regard is Paul's first epistle to Timothy, chapter 2, verses 3 through 6:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (NASB)

Responding to this verse, we must note three things:

1. Context is key. The verses surrounding the above passage make it clear that Paul's main thrust in writing these words was to break down racial and class distinctions that were prejudicing members of the early church against proclaiming the Gospel to everyone. So before the passage cited above, Paul makes mention of offering prayers for "all men" (I Tim. 2:1), specifically indicating "kings and all who are in authority" (I Tim. 2:2)- the same class of men from whom so few of the early Christians came (cf. I Cor. 1:26-27), and the same class of men who so often persecuted the early church (cf. James 2:6). And after the passage cited above Paul immediately explains that he was appointed as an apostle to the Gentiles (I Tim. 2:7). So the primary thrust of this passage is that God desires all kinds of men to be saved and that Christ died as a ransom for all kinds of men.

2. There is a very real sense in which God desires all men to be saved. This is clear from other verses of Scripture such as Ezekiel 18:23 (NASB):

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

But there is also another very real sense in which God delights in causing the destruction or perishing of some who rebel against Him, as is made clear from verses such as Deuteronomy 28:63 (NASB):

It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.

Taking both of these verses seriously, we must come to the conclusion that the will of God is two-fold. For God in His goodness and love toward all of His creatures desires only good and not evil. But due to reasons beyond our understanding (Deuteronomy 29:29, Isaiah 55:9) God has not chosen to change the heart (Ezekiel 36:26) of every individual. He has not chosen to bring each and every person out of spiritual death and into spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1-5).

This doctrine of a two-fold will of God is the only way that the teaching presented in above Scriptures, as well as the entire chapter of Romans 9, can be shown to be compatible with the whole counsel of God. The ‘two-fold will of God’ may seem odd to us at first, but it is not wholly outside of human comprehension. John Piper makes this clear by way of the following historical illustration:

The way I would give an account of this is explained by Robert L. Dabney in an essay written over a hundred years ago… Dabney uses an analogy from the life of George Washington taken from Chief-Justice Marshall's Life of Washington. A certain Major André had jeopardized the safety of the young nation through "rash and unfortunate" treasonous acts. Marshall says of the death warrant, signed by Washington, "Perhaps on no occasion of his life did the commander-in-chief obey with more reluctance the stern mandates of duty and of policy." Dabney observes that Washington's compassion for André was "real and profound". He also had "plenary power to kill or to save alive." Why then did he sign the death warrant? Dabney explains, "Washington's volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned, but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation.

Dabney imagines a defender of André, hearing Washington say, "I do this with the deepest reluctance and pity." Then the defender says, "Since you are supreme in this matter, and have full bodily ability to throw down that pen, we shall know by your signing this warrant that your pity is hypocritical." Dabney responds to this by saying, "The petulance of this charge would have been equal to its folly. The pity was real, but was restrained by superior elements of motive. Washington had official and bodily power to discharge the criminal, but he had not the sanctions of his own wisdom and justice." The corresponding point in the case of divine election is that "the absence of volition in God to save does not necessarily imply the absence of compassion." God has "a true compassion, which is yet restrained, in the case of the . . . non-elect, by consistent and holy reasons, from taking the form of a volition to regenerate." God's infinite wisdom regulates his whole will and guides and harmonizes (not suppresses) all its active principles."

3. "All" does not normally mean "every single person in the world" either in Scripture or in our daily speech. The people to whom the phrase "all" applies is always to be understood from the context in which it is given. If we hear someone at work say, "all employees must attend this meeting," we do not understand him or her to be referring to all the employees of every company in the world, but only to our own particular company. And Bible teacher James Montgomery Boice pointed out how the Biblical use of the word "all" is similarly defined by its context:

Isaiah 53:6 says that God laid on Jesus "the iniquity of us all." But it is clear from the verse immediately before this that the ones for whom Jesus bore iniquity are those who have been brought to a state of "peace" with God, that is, those who have been justified (cf. Rom. 5:1). Again, they are those who have been "healed" (v.5), not those who continue to be spiritually sick or dead. In the same way, the passages in John's Gospel that speak of Jesus being the Savior of the world mean only that Jesus is the only Savior the world will ever have, not that he will save every individual in it. Many other scattered passages that use the word "all" mean only "all of us."

And so it should be clear that when the Bible declares that Christ Jesus "gave Himself as a ransom for all" this phrase is intended to indicate "all within our particular company" and our particular company includes all kinds of individuals from every class and race of men.

Conclusion

So, "why are there some that go to Hell?" One Biblical answer to this question is that some go to Hell because Christ did not make Substitution for their sins. They remain lost in their unbelief and they are bearing the just wrath of God against sin forever.

I would like to end this rather lengthy post with the following quote from the great evangelist, Charles H. Spurgeon. In this quote, the phrases "universal atonement," "universal redemption," and "died for all men" are all meant to indicate the view which I am opposing in this post: that Christ made payment for all the sins of every individual person who ever has or ever will walk the face of the earth (Pharoah, Pilate, and Nero included) by His death on the Cross.

Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, "It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself," they say, "to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty." I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ's intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood... To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!

[This post was originally published on 10/07/05.]

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