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Robbie Williams on the scope and effect of the atonement


If Jesus really died for me /             Then Jesus really tried for me




How do you say the first line with conviction without the second line sounding like a well-meaning but ineffectual gesture?  That's at the heart of the debate between limited and universal atonement.  Well put Robbie.

Pity the song's rubbish.

I like the way Peter put it:

4 to whom coming -- a living stone -- by men, indeed, having been disapproved of, but with God choice, precious, 5 and ye yourselves, as living stones, are built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Wherefore, also, it is contained in the Writing: 'Lo, I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, choice, precious, and he who is believing on him may not be put to shame;' 7 to you, then, who are believing is the preciousness; and to the unbelieving, a stone that the builders disapproved of, this one did become for the head of a corner, 8 and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence -- who are stumbling at the word, being unbelieving, -- to which also they were set.  (1 Peter 2:4-8, Young's Literal Translation)

Christ through His cross is really set forth as Cornerstone.  And His proper office is to build up a spiritual house.  But, get this.  His effect (in an accidental rather than proper sense) is also to determine those in unbelief.  Not even unbelievers can 'set themselves' against Jesus.  Instead they are set in their unbelief.  They do not avoid the Stone, but stumble over Him.  They cannot escape His atonement.  They cannot free themselves from the Stone.  Either they fall on Him or He crushes them (Luke 20:18).  One way or another they are determined by Him.  In fact they find that even their rejection of Him makes Him to be the Capstone.  The cross is precisely the point where rejection is made to further not thwart His saving agenda.  Through His cross, Christ shows Himself to be so great His enemies serve His purpose.  This is the universal effectiveness of the cross.  What a crazy gospel!  But wonderful.  The Lord has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes.

Therefore Christ's atonement is for universal salvation - that is its proper effect.  Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it.  There is though an accidental and incomprehensible effect - rejection.  Yet even this rejection is taken up at the cross and through the cross to serve the saving purposes of God.  It is universally effective.

Jesus really died for you.  And Jesus more than tried for you.  At the cross He has entirely determined your existence..

0 thoughts on “Robbie Williams on the scope and effect of the atonement

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  2. Heather

    As a family, we are memorizing Psalm 24. And yesterday, the first verses caused me to think in similar terms as your post.

    Psalm 24:1-5 The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
    For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
    Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?
    He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
    He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

    David wrote that God owns *all* of creation--not just a small segment of "elected individuals". It's all His and, as rightful owner, He will do what He wants with the people, animals, planets etc.

    I guess your post is especially interesting to me as my husband was telling me how he recently realized the error that some Christians make in saying that "God will destroy everything that does not belong to Him"--when the message should be more along the line of "God owns everything and He will destroy that which remains unreconciled to Himself through Christ.

    Perhaps that isn't a perfect concept either, but I think it's closer to what the Bible actually says.

  3. Glen

    Yes indeed Heather - and don't forget:

    2 Cor 5:19 - God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself

    Col 1:19-20 - God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Christ and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself whether things in heaven or things on earth by making peace through His blood shed on the cross.

    Let's have a far more cosmic view of God's reconciliation - the cross.

    Christ is the Lord of all but especially those who believe. AND Christ is the *Saviour* of all but especially of those who believe (1 Tim 4:10)

    Salvation is the renewal/redemption of Creation (not just the salvaging of some parts of it). There is a universal scope to salvation. Which is not at all to say that all will be saved but that God's salvation definitively affects all.

    Remember that even the wicked will be raised bodily for condemnation. Where do they get their resurrection bodies from? Christ's death and resurrection is effective for all people (though in starkly different ways for believers and unbelievers).

    I think these diagrams might be relevant to this too.

  4. Big G

    Hi Glenn

    I don't get your last line (or really the tenor of your post) ... why is saying 'Christ died for you' warranted from the 1 Peter 2 passage - the last line of your post? It seems more Robbie Williams than Apostle Peter.

    You are saying the cross has the accidental effect of producing unbelief and rejection, right? You link to some of your comments on Calvin and his comments on the accidental office of the gospel etc ... but aren't these always (in Calvin) held together with his conception of proximate and remote causes i.e. in an ultimate sense if someone does not believe it is because of the divine decree, even as in another sense (one more nearly at hand) if they do not believe it is because of their own rebellion.

    Is that how you see it?

    And where in the Bible do you think we are encouraged to say 'Christ died for you' in the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel?


  5. Glen

    Hi Kenneth,

    From the 1 Peter 2 passage I think the apostle is saying that the Stone is laid in His being rejected and yet He determines all - even those set against Him.

    As for the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel, what about:

    Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)

    - to be honest I think that's the essence of preaching.

    I might also mention verses like John 3:16; Heb 2:9; 1 Tim 2:5-6; 1 John 2:1-2.


  6. Big G

    Yes I agree on the essence of preaching and the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel ...

    What do you mean by 'he determines' those set against him? I don't get the language, it seems to be a step removed from your normal biblicism

    If we say Christ died for those rejected, aren't we really saying 'Christ died for you but did not save you' ... and I always thought the cross saves


  7. Glen

    Hi Big G,

    Tell me, is Big G a pseudonym for one blogger? Three? And have you been reading here for long? Can't remember if I've welcomed you before or not. If not - welcome!

    'Determined' is just an attempt to express the aorist passive of 'tithemi' in 1 Pet 2:8 - they 'are placed.' Maybe 'determined' obscures rather than clarifies the verse, I dunno. But my intention is certainly to be biblical.

    As for whether the cross saves... Well of course it does. That's it's proper effect. Yet think of all the Stone verses - it seems wherever the Stone is mentioned in connection with Christ and Him crucified, there is a dual effect:

    Here in 1 Pet 2 - He's either precious or an offence

    In Ps 118:22 - He's rejected but this only makes Him the capstone

    In Isaiah 8:14 - He is either sanctuary or stumbling stone

    In Rom 9:33 - He is a stumbling stone or shame-removing Object of hope

    In Luke 20:18 - He either breaks to pieces (I take it that these are those humbled unto salvation) or He crushes (I take it that these are the damned).

    In 1 Cor 1:23f - He is either a stumbling block/foolishness or the power of God

    And as this last example makes clear, Christ really is the power of God for salvation (His proper effect), yet He has a hardening, even damning effect (per accidens) on those who do not receive it.

    That's my attempt to be biblical with the data. So I say to the sinner - Jesus really died for you. And He really died to save you. And I have confidence that this gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. But I also know that this gospel is so powerful that it will determine (set in place) even its enemies. No-one I speak this gospel to will remain unaffected by it (see the Stone verses above).


  8. Big G

    But you can't say to the sinner, Glenn, Christ really died to save you if actually Christ died to condemn and destroy some - how can you say that to them? If you say that Christ really died to save to you but you are not in fact saved (eschatologically) then Christ failed in his intent.

    You want to keep one intent within the divine will (Christ died for you) but with two actual outcomes (either salvation or damnation) ... but this is just the thin end of the Arminian wedge. The human will is ultimately and not merely proximately decisive.

    You are talking about the cross without seeing what you are saying about the divine will at the same time.

  9. Big G

    'But you can’t say to the sinner, Glenn, Christ really died to save you if actually Christ died to condemn and destroy some'

    I realise, actually, that isn't quite what you're saying - you're not saying Christ died TO condemn and destroy some' you're saying that is just one of the outcomes

    So how does this not then resolve into: Christ died to make your salvation possible, but the rest is up to you; OR Christ died to make you save-able and now it's over to you?

    I'm not trying to be difficult, I genuinely want to understand your position.



  10. Big G

    Hi Glenn

    Sorry, I think I've got the nub of my criticism:

    As per the Robbie Williams lines at the start you want to give an account of how the death of Jesus can be 'effectual' for both the saved and unsaved i.e. how to not have 'Jesus really tried for me' if I am not among the saved etc. Right?

    And so you say that the cross saves those who believe or determines those who opposite - and thus it is not ineffectual in either camp.

    But - and I suppose I've said similar above - my question then is that although the cross actually DOES something for both groups of people what it does for the unsaved is not what Christ intended it for. You say Christ really died to save you. If you are not saved, the cross did not then do what Christ intended it to and he failed in his intent at least towards some. If we keep this schema but introduce the Spirit's agency (he draws some/the elect to faith and belief) then you simply have Amyraldianism where the Son and the Spirit operate at (ahem) cross-purposes: the Son dies to save all, but the Spirit applies salvation to some.

    Am I making any sense?

    Your whole approach, predicated on Williams, is how to avoid an ineffectual cross and you are trying to locate the efficacy in the scope ... but doesn't Scripture locate it in in the intent?

  11. Glen

    Hi Big G,

    First of all, what do you make of the Stone passages? You said 'I always thought the cross saves'. What do you say in the face of those verses?

    Maybe it helps to lay out what I'm saying in all it's admitted illogicality:

    * Jesus died for the world
    * Jesus died for His bride
    * The world does not equal His bride
    * Not all are saved
    * His death is effectual for all
    * The proper effect of His death is salvation
    * The effect (per accidens) of His death is damnation
    * Man does not contribute a thing towards salvation

    I'm guessing you'll say that certain of those points imply the negation of certain other of those points. I'm happy just to quote Scriptures in support of them all and leave the tension there.

    In the gospel I am confident in holding out Christ crucified to a person and to say that 'Christ died for your salvation, to bring you to God.' The difficulty of saying 'Jesus really desires your salvation' when the person may not end up saved is a difficulty that I leave in Christ's own hands. He is the One who transforms even the apparent frustration of His purposes to actually redeem the world. That's what the cross teaches me. Through the cross the apparent denial of the will of God is taken up by God and transformed into the power of God unto salvation.

    I locate the sovereignty of salvation in the mystery of the cross not in the mystery of an inscrutable will. The former is not a *lesser* kind of sovereignty than the latter.

  12. Big G


    I see where you're coming from at least in terms of admitting what you're saying not being logical, whereas I think the Bible and what it teaches is not illogical.


  13. Glen

    And at that point we need to figure out what logic (or whose logic). But yes, I lean towards Luther more than Calvin on where and how and if we are to find 'logical coherence' in these things - and what that would look like.

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