Founders Journal

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Founders Journal 82 · Fall 2010 · pp. 17-31

John Bunyan and the Extent of the Atonement

Ben Rogers

In Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism David Allen, Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued that John Bunyan did not affirm the doctrine of limited atonement.[1] Dr. Allen is not the only scholar who, in recent years, has called into question Bunyan's commitment to this doctrine. David Wenkel argued in a recent article that in his early writings Bunyan demonstrated an "Amyraldian penchant for combining real particularism with hypothetical universalism."[2]

Was Bunyan a "high Calvinist"? Did he affirm the doctrine of limited atonement? Allen and Wenkel say no, but this article takes the opposite position. John Bunyan did in fact hold to the doctrine of limited atonement. Furthermore, Bunyan's writings demonstrate no "conversion" to this position late in life: Bunyan was committed to the doctrine of limited atonement throughout his ministerial and publishing career. This study begins with an examination of Bunyan's mature reflections on the extent of the atonement which demonstrate a clear and definite commitment to the doctrine of limited atonement. It concludes by answering various objections to Bunyan's lifelong "high Calvinism."

Bunyan's Mature Thought on the Extent of the Atonement

John Bunyan believed that the Scriptures teach that God's intention in the atonement was the redemption of the elect and them alone, and that this was fully and effectually accomplished on the cross. This conviction regarding the intention and accomplishment of the atonement is evident throughout his writings, but it becomes most clearly and maturely articulated in his later works,[3] particularly as he reflects upon the active obedience of Christ, the high priesthood of Christ, and covenant theology.

Justification by faith alone is the heart of the gospel and the Christian life for John Bunyan. He defended it on numerous occasions from Ranter and Quaker errors, and this doctrine finds expression, in some form or fashion, in almost every tract or treatise he published. For Bunyan, Christ's vicarious obedience not only applied to His death, but His life as well. Christ not only bore the sins of the elect; He fulfilled the whole law in their stead as well.[4] Thus in his later works one can find Bunyan's commitment to limited atonement clearly articulated in various descriptions of Christ's vicarious obedience or active obedience on behalf of the elect.

In The Saints' Knowledge of Christ's Love (1692) Bunyan speaks of the active and passive obedience of Christ as belonging to the elect and them alone. For "God's people," Bunyan writes, Christ's "whole life (as well as his death) was a life of merit and purchase, and desert."[5] In his exposition of the parable of The Pharisee and the Publican (1685), Bunyan states that Christ fulfilled the law for us:

And hence it is said, that Christ did what he did for us; He became the end of the law for righteousness for us; he suffered for us; he died for us; he laid down his life for us, and he gave himself for us. The righteousness then that Christ did fulfill, when he was in the world, was not for himself simply considered, nor for himself personally considered, for he had no need thereof; but it was for the elect, the members of his body…This righteousness then, even the whole of what Christ did in answer to the law, it was for his, and God hath put it upon them.[6]

The same emphasis can be found in The Saints' Privilege and Profit (1692). Here, in elaborating on the symbolism of the rainbow around the throne of grace in Revelation 4:1-3, Bunyan returns again to Christ's vicarious obedience on behalf of the elect:

The sum then is, that by the rainbow round about the throne of grace upon which God sitteth to hear and answer the petitions of his people, we are to understand the obediental righteousness of Jesus Christ, which in the days of his flesh he wrought out and accomplished for his people; by which God's justice is satisfied, and their persons justified, and they so made acceptable to him.[7]

For John Bunyan, Christ's whole obedience, both active and passive, was performed for the elect and the elect alone. Bunyan believed that God the Father intended that God the Son provide actual righteousness for fallen, yet elect, sinners. And Bunyan firmly believed that Christ perfectly did so in the days of his flesh.

In addition to the doctrine of Christ's active obedience, the high priesthood of Christ became a prominent theme in Bunyan's later writings. In the last year of his life (1688) Bunyan published The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate. In this treatise, the author demonstrates how the work of Christ as High Priest is related to the extent of the atonement. Under what is traditionally labeled the office of Christ the High Priest, Bunyan distinguishes three offices: the Office of the Sacrifice, the Office of the Priest, and the Office of the Advocate. Though these are three separate and distinct offices, there is harmony between them.[8] As a sacrifice, the sins of the elect are laid upon Christ.[9] As a priest, Christ has two duties: He must offer the sacrifice of Himself to the Father, and intercede for those for whom He died.[10] And as an advocate, Christ stands up and pleads the merits of His blood for those saints that Satan accuses at the bar of God's justice.

In this treatise Bunyan makes it clear that not everyone has Christ for an advocate because Christ's advocacy is founded upon His sacrifice: the elect have Christ for an advocate because He died for them. At the bar, this advocate "pleads to a price paid, to a propitiation made; and this is a great advantage; yea, he pleads to a satisfaction made for all wrongs done, or to be done, by his elect."[11] The reprobate, however, has no such advantage. No such sacrifice stands on his behalf.[12]

In Christ a Complete Saviour, published four years after the author's death in 1692, Bunyan once again returns to the theme of the priestly work of Christ. This work is a treatise on the intercessory work of Christ and those who are privileged to it. Bunyan, like his friend John Owen, argues that Christ's sacrifice cannot be divorced from His intercession; the later is based on the former and completes it, thus Christ is a complete Savior. Complete salvation entails both the justification of the elect, which took place at the cross, and the preservation of the elect, which is accomplished by the intercession of Christ the High Priest. The whole argument of the treatise might be summed up as follows: Christ prays for the elect because He paid for the elect and them alone.

Some of the clearest statements Bunyan makes about the extent of the atonement can be found in his explanation of the interconnectedness of Christ's sacrifice and intercession in this work. In the opening pages of Christ a Complete Saviour, Bunyan specifically speaks of the elect as those for whom Christ prays and died. He writes:

He prays for all the elect, that they may be brought home to God…And the reason is, for that he hath paid a ransom for them. Christ, therefore, when he maketh intercession for the ungodly, and all the unconverted elect are such, doeth but petitionarily ask for his own, his purchased ones, those for whom he died before, that they might be saved by his blood."[13]

On the following page, Bunyan discusses Christ's interest in the elect; He has an interest in the elect, and thus He purchased them and prays for them.[14] Later on in the treatise, Bunyan suggests that not only does Christ pray for the elect based on His sacrifice on their behalf, but godly men do so as well. Bunyan writes: "He (the godly man) comes to God for the hastening the gathering in of his elect; for it is an affliction to him to think that so many of those for whom Christ died should be still in a posture of hostility against him."[15] Finally, Bunyan specifically mentions the "length and breadth" of His intercession and atonement. Bunyan defines Christ's intercession as:

Intercession, then, I mean Christ's intercession, is, that those for whom he died with full intention to save them, might be brought into the inheritance which he hath purchased for them. Now then, his intercession must, as to length and breadth, reach no further than his merits, for he may not pray for those for whom he died not…

Bunyan continues:

But this, I say, his intercession is for those for whom he died with full intention to save them; wherefore it must be grounded upon the validity of his sufferings. And, indeed, his intercession is nothing else, that I know of, but a presenting of what he did in the world for us unto God, and pressing the value of it for our salvation.[16]

John Bunyan believed that it was the Father's intention that the Son, as Mediator, become a Sacrifice, High Priest, and Advocate for the elect and the elect alone. He could not conceive of Christ dying for one for whom he would not pray-- "His intercession must, as to length and breadth, reach no further than his merits, for he may not pray for those for whom he died not." Bunyan's understanding of the sacrifice of Christ and Bunyan's understanding of the intercession and advocacy of Christ may not be divorced from one another.

Christ's active obedience and His priestly work are both grounded in Bunyan's covenant theology.[17] Like the aforementioned doctrines, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace were some of Bunyan's favorite theological topics. They, like the other two doctrines, receive significant treatment in all of Bunyan's writings, and like the other two doctrines, Bunyan's covenant theology, particularly as he treats it in his later writings, demonstrates a firm commitment to limited atonement.

Bunyan believed that all men were born under a covenant of works where blessings and life were promised for perfect obedience and curses and damnation were threatened for disobedience. Through the sin of Adam and Eve, their guilt and fallen nature were transmitted to their descendants; the covenant of works no longer offers blessings and life. However, God in His grace established a covenant of grace to redeem sinners. In this covenant of grace, God the Father made a contract or covenant with God the Son for the eternal salvation of a fixed group of fallen sinners called the elect, whom the Father had chosen to lavish His free grace and mercy upon. In this covenant of grace, the Son became surety for the elect and their representative head (federal head, public person), promising to come to earth, obey the law providing them with righteousness, suffer for their sins providing atonement for their sins, and thus reconcile them to God.

In The Saints' Knowledge of Christ's Love (1692), Bunyan emphasizes time and time again that all of Christ's redeeming activity is directed exclusively toward the elect and them alone. Bunyan writes, "Love in Christ pitcheth not itself upon undue or unlawful objects; nor refuseth to embrace what by the eternal covenant is made capable thereof."[18] He goes on to say that Christ's death as a public person (as a federal representative) was for the elect only. Bunyan writes:

Therefore, this death for us, was so virtuous, that in the space of three days and three nights, it reconciled to God in the body of his flesh as a common person, all, and every one of God's elect. Christ, when he addressed himself to die, presented himself to the justice of the law, as a common person; standing in the stead, place, and room of all that he undertook for.

Bunyan continues:

Then Christ in life and death is concluded by the Father to live and die as a common or public person, representing all in this life and death, for whom he undertook thus to live, and thus to die. So then, it must needs be, that what next befalls this common person, it befalls him with respect to them in whose room and place he stood and suffered.[19]

Christ has an interest in the elect because the Father made Him surety for them in the covenant of grace.[20] But Christ has no vested interest in those whom the Father left in their sins and passed over for salvation. He is not their Mediator, and thus He is not their Sacrifice, High Priest, Intercessor, or Advocate. Therefore Bunyan can say:

How many thousands are there for whom Christ doth not so much as once open his mouth, but leaves them to the accusations of Satan, and to Ahab's judgment, nay, a worse, because there is none to plead their cause? And why doth he not concern himself with them? Because he is not interested in them--"I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine and all mine are thine, and I am glorified in them."[21]

The mature expressions of Bunyan's covenant theology demonstrate a clear commitment to the doctrine of limited atonement. Bunyan appears to be almost totally unconcerned about what the death of Christ means for those who have been passed over for salvation. All of Christ's redeeming activity is directed to the elect and them alone. For their sakes, He becomes man, fulfills the demands of the law, suffers for their sins as a sacrifice, prays for them as an intercessor, and defends them as advocate.

Despite the clarity with which Bunyan articulates his understanding of the extent of the atonement in his later works, his commitment to limited atonement continues to remain a matter of debate. Those who see Bunyan as either a life-long four-point Calvinist or a convert to "high Calvinism" in later life usually appeal to his early, pre-imprisonment writings; his evangelistic appeals; to "all" or "world" texts; or to Reprobation Asserted to make their case. It is to these objections that we now turn.

Bunyan and the Extent of the Atonement Prior to Imprisonment (1656 - 1660)

John Bunyan published four works before his imprisonment. His first published work is entitled Some Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures (1656). This work is both a polemic directed against the Christological errors of the Quakers and an evangelistic presentation of the gospel directed to the unconverted. In 1657, Bunyan published his second work, A Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures, in response to Quaker objections to his first publication. In his third work, A Few Sighs From Hell (1658), Bunyan turns from Quaker polemics to the exposition of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus of Luke 16. And his fourth and final pre-imprisonment publication is The Doctrine of Law and Grace Unfolded (1660), which is the author's first major presentation of his covenant theology.

In each of these works there are a number of statements that seem to suggest that Bunyan did not hold to the doctrine of limited atonement. In Some Gospel Truths Opened Bunyan says that "he (Christ) was sent of God to die for the sins of the world."[22] Again, in A Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures, Bunyan writes, "And so in the nature of man he did become the Lamb of God, or the sacrifice of God, that doth take away the sins of the world."[23] Bunyan makes a similar statement in A Few Sighs From Hell. He writes, "O Lord Jesus! What a load didst thou carry! What a burden didst thou bear of the sins of the world, and the wrath of God."[24] And in The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, Bunyan makes a number of statements that seem to suggest that he held to a general view of the atonement. Bunyan explains that Christ took on the conditions of the covenant because "There should be a complete satisfaction given to God for the sins of the world; for that was one great thing that was agreed upon when the covenant was made."[25] And again, Bunyan writes that Christ on the cross looked as if "the sin of the whole world was upon him" and that God reckoned Him to be "not only a sinner, but the very bulk of sin of the whole world, and condemned him so severely as if he had been nothing but sin."[26]

Although these quotations seem to make a case for Bunyan's commitment to a general view of the atonement, a closer examination of these works reveals that such a conclusion are both unnecessary and unwarranted. First, although there are a few statements such as these in Bunyan's early writings, there are also numerous statements in those same works that suggest that Bunyan held to limited atonement. Take, for example, Some Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures.[27] The author opens the work with a discussion about Christ as a Savior and explains Christ's saving work in covenantal terms: God foresaw the Fall of man, God foreordained some of those fallen sinners to salvation, and Christ will purchase redemption for them. Bunyan writes, "God seeing that we would transgress, and break his commandment, did before choose some of those that would fall, and give them to him that should afterward purchase them actually."[28] Bunyan continues, "God having thus purposed in himself, that he would save some of them that by transgression had destroyed themselves, did with the everlasting Son of his love, make an agreement, or bargain, that upon such and such terms, he would give him a company of such poor souls as had by transgression fallen from their own innocency and uprightness, into those wicked inventions that they themselves had sought out."[29] Bunyan also mentions the priesthood of Christ in his discussion of conditions of the covenant that Christ fulfilled for the elect. In this discussion Bunyan mentions that Christ prays for the elect and them alone, referring to them as the ones "which I covenanted with thee (the Father) for."[30] Later on in the treatise, Bunyan specifically limits Christ death to the elect. He writes that Christ came to "redeem them that were under the law," and then he clarifies his meaning saying, "that is, to redeem such as were ordained to life eternal, from the curse of the law."[31] And again, Bunyan speaks of Christ bearing the sins of believers, not the sins of the whole race of mankind. Bunyan writes, "There was never any able to bear the sins of all believers in the world, that ever were, now are, or hereafter shall be, but the true God."[32]

Secondly, the assertion that Bunyan rejected the doctrine of limited atonement as evidenced by his early writings rests almost exclusively on "all" and "world" texts. One should not, however, assume that when Bunyan speaks of "the world" and "all" he has in mind every member of the human race. As shall be demonstrated below, Bunyan can and does use those terms with reference to the elect alone.

Thirdly, Bunyan's own experience of conversion prior to these writings and his writings immediately after show that "high Calvinism" was Bunyan's default theological position. In Grace Abounding, Bunyan's spiritual autobiography, the author recounts a severe trial that took place prior to his publishing career that could only afflict someone who was committed to the doctrine of limited atonement: he feared that he belonged to those for whom Christ did not die.[33] And shortly after his imprisonment, Bunyan published A Map Showing the Order and Causes of Salvation and Damnation (1673). This illustration of the outworking of the divine decrees depicts Supralapsarian "high Calvinism" and was based on similar illustrations made by William Perkins and Theodore Beza.[34] Therefore, given Bunyan's "high Calvinism" both before and after the works in question, the numerous limiting statements found in all four works, and his nuanced interpretation of words such as "all" and "world," one should not conclude that John Bunyan's early thinking on the atonement is substantially different from his mature thought. The difference is one of clarity of thought and presentation, not substance.

Bunyan's Evangelistic Preaching

It is an indisputable fact that John Bunyan preached for conversion. In fact, it is not an overstatement to claim that it was the driving force of his preaching ministry. "I found my spirit leaned most," wrote Bunyan in his autobiography, "after awakening and converting work…In my preaching I have really been in pain, and have, as it were, travailed to bring forth children to God; neither could I be satisfied unless some fruits did appear in my work."[35] This evangelistic impulse is also evident in his writings: almost every work that came from his pen includes one or more calls for sinners to come to Christ for salvation.

For some, this kind of evangelistic zeal is incompatible with "high Calvinism," particularly the doctrine of limited atonement. It is argued that one cannot genuinely offer the gospel to all men because Christ did not die to purchase all men. Therefore, some have concluded that Bunyan's evangelistic zeal is proof that he rejected the doctrine of limited atonement.

Take, for example, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved; or Good News to the Vilest of Men (1688). Bunyan says that he hopes this work will be "a heart-affecting discourse that tends to converts sinners."[36] The gospel must be preached to all, Bunyan argues, beginning with the vilest of men, namely, Jerusalem sinners. At places in this work, Bunyan seems to suggest that Christ died for all men. In response to an objection from a Jerusalem sinner, Bunyan pleads with the unbeliever not to let the mocking of others keep him from eternal life:

Thy stubbornness affects, afflicts the heart of thy Saviour. Carest thou not for this? Of old, he beheld the city, and wept over it.' Canst thou hear this, and not be concerned. Shall Christ weep to see thy soul going on to destruction, and will thou sport thyself in that way? Yea, shall Christ, that can be eternally happy without thee, be more afflicted at the thoughts of the loss of thy soul, than thyself, who art certainly eternally miserable if thou neglectest to come to him. Those things that keep thee and thy Saviour, on thy part, asunder, are but bubbles; the least prick of an affliction will let out, as to thee, what now thou thinkest is worth the venture of heaven to enjoy.[37]

Bunyan continues:

Hast thou not reason? Canst thou not so much as once soberly think of thy dying hour, or of whither thy sinful life will drive thee then? Hast thou no conscience? or having one, is it rocked so fast asleep by sin, or made so weary with an unsuccessful calling upon thee, that it is laid down, and cares for thee no more? Poor man! thy state is to be lamented. Hast no judgment? Art not able to conclude, that to be saved is better than to burn in hell? and that eternal life with God's favour, is better than a temporal life in God's displeasure? Hast no affection but what is brutish? what, none at all? No affection for the God that made thee? What! none for his loving Son that has showed his love, and died for thee? Is not heaven worth thy affection? O poor man! which is strongest, thinkest thou, God or thee? If thou art not able to overcome him, thou art a fool for standing out against him. 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hand of the living God.' He will gripe hard; his fist is stronger than a lion's paw; take heed of him, he will be angry if you despise his Son; and will you stand guilty in your trespasses, when he offereth you his grace and favour?[38]

On the surface, these statements seem to suggest a general view of the atonement, but this is not necessarily the case. First, it is not inconsistent with "high-Calvinism" to speak of Christ willing to save those who will eternally perish. This is especially true and indeed quite appropriate in presenting the gospel with an eye to conversions. What Bunyan is saying is that Christ is willing to save you, if you will be saved. Secondly, by saying to the sinner "Christ died for thee," Bunyan could have in mind a number of different possibilities. He could be suggesting that Christ died for the sinner if the sinner comes. Or, it is possible, that the imaginary character Bunyan is appealing to in the work is, in his mind, an elect sinner whom he hopes to convert with this plea. It should be noted that just a few pages after this quote, Bunyan implies that the atonement is limited to the elect. Bunyan speaks of the wiles and stratagems of Satan that undoes the world of men. Despite all his best efforts, there remains among the race of men a remnant, "the seed of election," that Satan does not deceive. On this remnant Satan, the lion, pours out all his wrath. Bunyan writes, "Oh! The rage and roaring of this lion, and the hatred that he manifests against the Lord Jesus, and against them that are purchased with his blood!"[39]

In short, Bunyan's evangelistic fervor in no way undermines his "high Calvinism" or his commitment to the doctrine of limited atonement. In fact, one should be surprised to find a preacher like Bunyan speaking about such mysteries of the faith in a work intended to be "a heart-affecting discourse that tends to convert sinners." When addressing unbelievers, Bunyan directed his hearers not to the decree of election, but to Christ.

Bunyan and Universal Texts

As was mentioned before, those who argue that Bunyan was a "moderate Calvinist" frequently appeal to texts where the author says that Christ died for "all men" or "the world." If Bunyan understood these terms in the broadest possible sense, then Bunyan would indeed be a four-point Calvinist, as David Allen has argued,[40] if not an Amyraldian, as David Wenkel has argued, or an outright Arminian. Though Bunyan does at times speak of Christ dying for "all" or suffering for the sins of the "world," in so doing he does not take those terms in their widest possible sense.

In A Defense of the Doctrine of Justification By Faith in Jesus Christ (1672) Bunyan speaks of Christ dying "for the sins of the world"[41] on a number of occasions. He also speaks of believers feeding upon the flesh and blood of Christ by faith that was "once given for the sin of the world."[42] And again in A Light for Them That Sit in Darkness (1674) Bunyan says that the day Christ stood before the Father on the cross "he was as the sin of the world."[43] He goes on to say, "Look, then, upon Christ crucified to be as the sin of the world, as if he only had broken the law."[44] Quoting John 1:29, Bunyan once again speaks of Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.[45] And later Bunyan speaks of Christ being charged with the sins of the whole world.[46]

Though Bunyan sometimes speaks of Christ as dying for the sins of the world, it should be noted, that Bunyan does not always have in mind the entire race of men when he uses the word "world." In The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate (1688) Bunyan uses "world" in reference to the totality of the elect: past, present, and future. Bunyan writes, "He is our Advocate, and also our priest. As an Advocate, ours only; but as a propitiation, not ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world; to be sure, for the elect throughout the world."[47] Bunyan then immediately speaks of Christ offering "a propitiatory sacrifice for all," but, as before, he qualifies "all" as he did "world" by referring to "all that shall be saved" and he goes on to argue that "by any man, must not be meant any of the world."[48]

Again, in A Light for Them That Sit in Darkness, Bunyan clarifies his definition of the "world" on page 1:409. Bunyan clarifies who he has in mind with his use of "world" in the following sentence: "Look, then, upon Christ crucified to be as the sin of the world, as if he only had broken the law; which done, behold him perfectly innocent in himself, and so conclude that for the transgression of God's people he was stricken; that when the Lord made him to be sin, he made him to be sin for us."[49] Bunyan speaks of the "sins of the world," but goes on to clarify his meaning: the "sins of the world" are actually "the transgression of God's people."[50]

One should also take notice of Bunyan's extended discussion about the proper way to exegete universal texts in Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ (1680). Bunyan's general principle is that a word "must be limited and enlarged, as the truth and argument, for the sake of which it is used, will bear; else we shall abuse Scripture, and readers, and ourselves, and all."[51] For example, in explaining the "all" of John 7:32 (And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me), the author states, "he must mean by all men, those, and only those, that shall in truth be eternally saved from the wrath to come."[52]

When Bunyan employs "all" and "the world" language, one must not assume he is using such terms in the widest possible sense, and thus those texts that speak of Christ dying for "all men" or bearing the sins of "the world" do not necessarily suggest that Bunyan believed that it was God's intention that Christ suffer for the sins of every human being.

Reprobation Asserted

Probably the most often cited document that is used to refute Bunyan's "high Calvinism" is Reprobation Asserted (1674).[53] In chapter IX, the author answers the question of "Whether God would indeed and in truth, that the gospel, with the grace thereof, should be tendered to those that yet he hath bound up under Eternal Reprobation?"[54] He answers in the affirmative saying: "In the language of our Lord, 'Go preach the gospel unto every creature'; and again, 'Look unto me, and be ye saved; all ye ends of the earth'. 'And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely'. And the reason is, because Christ died for all, 'tasted death for every man'; is 'the Saviour of the world', and the propitiation for the sins of the whole world."[55] The author continues:

Second, I gather it from those several censures that even every one goeth under, that doth not receive Christ, when offered in the general tenders of the gospel; 'He that believeth not,-- shall be damned'; 'He that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his son'; and, Woe unto thee Capernaum, 'Woe unto thee Chorazin! woe unto thee Bethsaida!' with many other sayings, all which words, with many other of the same nature, carry in them a very great argument to this very purpose; for if those that perish in the days of the gospel, shall have, at least, their damnation heightened, because they have neglected and refused to receive the gospel, it must needs be that the gospel was with all faithfulness to be tendered unto them; the which it could not be, unless the death of Christ did extend itself unto them; for the offer of the gospel cannot, with God's allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be taken away, there is indeed no gospel, nor grace to be extended. Besides, if by every creature, and the like, should be meant only the elect, then are all the persuasions of the gospel to no effect at all; for still the unconverted, who are here condemned for refusing of it, they return it as fast again: I do not know I am elect, and therefore dare not come to Jesus Christ; for if the death of Jesus Christ, and so the general tender of the gospel, concern the elect alone; I, not knowing myself to be one of that number, am at a mighty plunge; nor know I whether is the greater sin, to believe, or to despair: for I say again, if Christ died only for the elect, &c. then, I not knowing myself to be one of that number, dare not believe the gospel, that holds forth his blood to save me; nay, I think with safety may not, until I first do know I am elect of God, and appointed thereunto.[56]

The later quote is probably the most definite statement on a general view of the atonement that can be found in Bunyan's collected works. However, there are two problems with using Reprobation Asserted to disprove Bunyan's commitment to the doctrine of limited atonement. The first problem is one of interpretation. Paul Helm denies that Bunyan actually taught a general view of the atonement in Reprobation Asserted. Christ's death, Helm argues, "extends itself to the reprobate in the sense that if they were to believe then Christ's death would suffice for salvation."[57] Furthermore, Bunyan is dealing with the practical question of what the preacher should say: "the preacher is not to call the elect to Christ as the elect."[58] Finally, in insisting that the offer of the gospel is genuine the author is not implying that the reprobate will ever come to Christ. Helm notes that Bunyan makes the distinction between God being willing to save the reprobate and being resolved to do so."[59]

The second, and more significant problem, is authorship. John Bunyan was probably not the author of Reprobation Asserted. The authenticity of the work has been a matter of dispute since John Brown, Bunyan's chief biographer, argued that the book was pseudonymous.[60] Brown believes that Bunyan's publisher, Charles Doe, mistakenly took the work to be Bunyan's. During this time there were four other books passed off falsely in Bunyan's name, "for the purpose of trading upon his popularity."[61] Brown suggests other external evidences in support of his conclusion: this work is printed differently than the rest of Bunyan's works, it has an unusual title page, and the work in question did not appear in any of the first three collected editions of Bunyan's writings (1692, 1736, and 1774).[62] Brown also notes that the substance and style is not Bunyan's. Brown states, "It neither begins nor ends in Bunyan's characteristic fashion, nor is there in it a single touch to remind us of his own particular vein. Let him write on what subjects he may, he writes not long before he either melts with tenderness or glows with fire. This writer never deviates into anything of the kind. He is hard and cold in style, thin in scheme and substance, and he is what Bunyan never was--pitiless in logic, without being truly logical."[63] Richard Greaves concurs, saying, "Stylistically Reprobation Asserted is manifestly different from Bunyan's theological treatises and homiletic and expository works. Its logical and well-ordered structure, involving eleven chapters in forty-four pages, is essentially without parallel in Bunyan's (other) writings. The customary 'use' or 'application' with which he concludes most of his works is also absent."[64] Greaves believes the work to be the production of an open-membership, open-communion Particular Baptist who admired Bunyan's role in that debate.

In conclusion, Reprobation Asserted cannot be a viewed as proof that John Bunyan held to a general view of the atonement. Not only are there varying interpretation of chapter IX, but, more significantly, John Bunyan is probably not the author of the work in question.

Conclusion

In Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism David Allen wrongly characterized John Bunyan as a "moderate" or four-point Calvinist. The mature Bunyan spoke clearly and definitively about the extent of the atonement: it was the intention of the Father and the Son that Christ die for the elect and the elect alone, and this is precisely what was accomplished on the cross. Such a position is evidenced by his mature articulation of the active obedience of Christ, the High Priesthood of Christ, and his covenant theology. There is a precision in his later writings that is absent from some of his earlier publications, yet nowhere in his writings does Bunyan substantially drift from the "high Calvinism" of his mature thinking. Bunyan was converted in the context of "high Calvinism" as evidenced by the nature of some of his temptations, and his early writings should be viewed in that light. Though Bunyan passionately pleaded with the lost to come to Christ, his evangelistic zeal should not be seen as incompatible with "high Calvinism." Bunyan did in fact speak of Christ dying for "all" and suffering for the sins of the "world," yet Bunyan himself warns against taking these terms in their widest possible senses. And though Reprobation Asserted bears his name, there remains considerable doubt amongst Bunyan scholars about both the authenticity of the work and its interpretation, and thus it should not be made to serve as prima facie evidence that Bunyan was a "moderate Calvinist."

It should be noted that Bunyan never devoted a single work to the question of the extent of the atonement, nor did he engage in polemics to defend it as he did with the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is better to read Bunyan as a pastor than as a systematician. In the appropriate pastoral context, one can find Bunyan speaking candidly about the extent of the atonement, the doctrine of election and predestination, and other mysteries of the faith. But when Bunyan was appealing to those under the covenant of works, he had other aims. It is best to view Bunyan as one for whom limited atonement was assumed and thus it emerged naturally when he spoke about related theological topics such as justification by faith alone, the priesthood of Christ, and covenant theology.


Notes:

[1] David L. Allen, "The Atonement: Limited or Universal?" in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, eds. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 67.

[2] David Wenkel, "John Bunyan's Soteriology During his Pre-Prison Period (1656-1659): Amyraldian or High-Calvinist?" Scottish Journal of Theology 58 (2005): 333.

[3] The later works cited in this section are undisputed. Of the five here cited, only the title of one of the works (The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate) was altered. The substance remained unchanged. The reader, therefore, can have a high degree of confidence that Bunyan's later works cited in this section are truly his words.

[4] Pieter de Vries, John Bunyan on the Order of Salvation, trans. C. Van Haaften (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 148.

[5] John Bunyan, The Saints' Knowledge of Christ's Love, in The Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offor, vol. 2 (Glasgow: W.G. Blackie and Son, 1854: reprint, Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 19.

[6] John Bunyan, The Pharisee and the Publican, in Works, 2:247.

[7] John Bunyan, The Saints' Privilege and Profit, in Works, 1:648.

[8] John Bunyan, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, in Works, 1:161.

[9] John Bunyan, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, in Works 1:161, 163, 201.

[10] Ibid., 1:169.

[11] Ibid., 1:176. See also 161.

[12] Ibid., 164

[13] John Bunyan, Christ a Complete Saviour, in Works, 1:203.

[14] Ibid., 1:204.

[15] Ibid., 1:226.

[16] Ibid., 1:235.

[17] For a good analysis of Bunyan's Covenant Theology see Richard Greaves, John Bunyan (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), 97-122.

[18] John Bunyan, The Saints' Knowledge of Christ's Love, in Works, 2:16.

[19] Ibid., 2:20.

[20] John Bunyan, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, in Works, 1:164.

[21] Ibid.

[22] John Bunyan, Some Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures, in Works, 2:166-67.

[23] John Bunyan, A Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures, in Works, 2:208.

[24] John Bunyan, A Few Sighs From Hell, or The Groans of a Damned Soul, in Works, 3:706.

[25] John Bunyan, The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:526.

[26] Ibid., 1:561.

[27] For limited atonement references in A Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures see in Works 2:177, 179, 180, 185, 207. For similar references in A Few Sighs From Hell see 3:674, 680, 681, 684, 692, 700, 704, 706, 709, 717, 724. For similar references in The Doctrine of Law and Grace Unfolded see 1:506, 507, 522, 523, 524, 532, 534, 535, 551.

[28] John Bunyan, Some Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures, in Works, 2:141.

[29] Ibid., 2:141-42.

[30] Ibid., 2:142.

[31] Ibid., 2:147.

[32] Ibid., 2:150.

[33] See John Bunyan, Grace Abounding, in Works 1:29.

[34] Richard Greaves, Glimpses of Glory, 173-74.

[35] John Bunyan, Grace Abounding, in Works 1:43.

[36] John Bunyan, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved; or Good News to the Vilest of Men, in Works, 1:68.

[37] Ibid. 1:90.

[38] Ibid.

[39] John Bunyan, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved; or Good News to the Vilest of Men, in Works, 1:96.

[40] David Wenkel, "John Bunyan's Soteriology During his Pre-Prison Period (1656-1659): Amyraldian or High-Calvinist?" Scottish Journal of Theology 58 (2005).

[41] John Bunyan, A Defense of the Doctrine of Justification By Faith in Jesus Christ, in Works, 2:307. See also 2:329 and 2:330.

[42] Ibid., 2:309.

[43] John Bunyan, A Light For Them that Sit in Darkness, in Works, 2:408.

[44] Ibid., 2:409.

[45] Ibid., 2:416

[46] Ibid., 2:432.

[47] John Bunyan, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, in Works, 1:170.

[48] Ibid., 1:170.

[49] John Bunyan, A Light For Them That Sit In Darkness, in Works, 2:409.

[50] Ibid., 2:409.

[51] John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, in Works, 1:242.

[52] Ibid.

[53] See Dr. Allen's article in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, 75-76, 98.

[54] John Bunyan, Reprobation Asserted, in Works, 2:348.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid., 2:348.

[57] Paul Helm, "John Bunyan and Reprobation Asserted" The Baptist Quarterly 28 (2) (1979): 91.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid., 92.

[60] Richard Greaves, John Bunyan and English Nonconformity (London: Hambledon Press, 1992), 185.

[61] John Brown, John Bunyan: His Life, Times, and Work (Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1885), 245.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Richard Greaves, John Bunyan and English Nonconformity, 188.

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