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Dabney, The Westminster Confession, and the Extent of the Atonement

We have noted before the surprising fact that R L Dabney seems to have been some sort of hypothetical universalist, and so this section of his treatment of the Westminster Confession and the nature and extent of the Atonement is quite interesting:

Again, the Confession assets with most positive precision the penal substitution of Christ, the imputation of our guilt to him, his punitive sufferings and sacrifice therefore, and the imputation of this satisfaction to all believers for their justification. It holds fast to the truth of particular redemption. Yet it carefully avoids implying any limitation upon the infinite value and merit of Christ’s sacrifice. It carefully avoids confusing the two concepts of legal satisfaction for guilt with the consequent at-one-ment, or reconciliation, of the believing sinner. And it gives no countenance to the quid-pro-quo theory of expiation, which affects, with a mischievous over-refinement, to affix a commercial ratio between the sins of the elect and the one indivisible and infinite merit of the divine sacrifice.

~ The Westminster Confession and Creeds (Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1983) p 13

I’m not sure that Dabney’s reading of the Confession is the most natural one, and it is certainly not the reading of the majority of the later Presbyterian tradition, yet it is a reading which Dr. Richard Muller supports.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

One reply on “Dabney, The Westminster Confession, and the Extent of the Atonement”

Rubbing up against the Bible more artistically, like Dabney does, might leave one smelling of what more mathematical readers take as hypothetical universalism. But exulting with empathetic joy in the complete and thorough rejuvenation of the whole creation is, for my money, closer to the feel of what He’s telling us — even if technically it occurs for limited parts. The whole thing as a thing is made new!

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