“Jesus Christ the Propitiation for the Whole World” (1)
PMW 2021-083 by Benjamin B. Warfield
[Gentry note: This is an excellent article by renowned postmillennial Princeton scholar, B. B. Warfield.]
“And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.”
(1 John 2:2)
As a means of comforting Christians distressed by their continued lapses into sin, John, in the opening words of the second chapter of his first Epistle, is led to assure them that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, a Righteous One”; and by way of showing how prevailing his advocacy is, to add, “And he is himself a propitiation for our sins.” There he might well have stopped. But, without obvious necessity for his immediate purpose, he adds this great declaration: “And not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” That by these words the propitiation wrought by Christ, of which we have continual need, and on which we continually draw in our need, is exalted by ascribing to it, in some sense, a universal efficacy, is clear enough. But the commentators, first and last, have not found it easy to make plain to themselves the precise nature of the universalism assigned therein to our Lord’s propitiatory sacrifice.
Difficulties for Commentators
Readers of old John Cotton’s practical notes on First John, for example, will not fail to observe that he moves with a certain embarrassment in his exposition of this universalism. He has a number of things, in themselves of value, to say about it; but he appears to find most satisfaction in the suggestion that although Christ by his expiatory death has bought for his people some things—and these the most important things—which he has not bought for all men, yet there are some most desirable things also which he has bought for all men. This, however, is certainly not what John says. It admits of no doubt that John means to say that the Christians whom he was addressing, and with whom he identifies himself—they and he alike—enjoy no privilege with reference to the propitiation of Christ, which is not enjoyed by them in common with “the whole world.” They—and he with them—are not to be disheartened by their sins, he says, because these sins have been expiated by the blood of Christ; by which have been expiated indeed, not their sins only but also those of “the whole world.” The “whole world” is not made in some general and subsidiary sense a beneficiary of Christ’s atoning death, but in this specific and highest sense — the expiation of its sins. Its sins have been as really and fully expiated as those of the Christians John was addressing, and as his own.
Thine Is the Kingdom
(ed. by Ken Gentry)
Contributors lay the scriptural foundation for a biblically-based, hope-filled postmillennial eschatology, while showing what it means to be postmillennial in the real world.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
The most “modern” of modern expositors are as much at sea in the face of the universalism of this assertion as any of the older and presumably less instructed ones could be. Thus Otto Baumgarten simply declines to attempt its exposition. We do not know what John means, he says; we lack the necessary information to enable us to understand him. It may sound very fine to say that John teaches here that no shadow is cast on God’s holiness by the exhibition of partiality on his part for individuals; that he rebukes those who, in egotistic and sentimental religiosity, or in selfish anxiety for their own salvation, would draw apart from their fellows.
But difficulties remain. Experience scarcely encourages us to think that all without exception are sharers in Christ’s salvation; it rather bears out our Lord’s declaration that the gate is narrow and the way straitened that leads to life and few there be that find it. And John! Is not the whole world to him a massa corrupta—a “darkness” which does not “apprehend” “the light”? How we can harmonize the three passages— John 1:29, which speaks of taking away the sin of the world; John 3:16, “God so loved the world”; and this, declaring that Christ has made propitiation for the sins of the world—with John’s sharp dualism of Light and Darkness, does not appear.
Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond
(ed. by Darrell Bock)
Presents three views on the millennium: progressive dispensationalist, amillennialist, and reconstructionist postmillennialist viewpoints. Includes separate responses to each view.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Perhaps John is only repeating with thoughtless neglect of their inconsequence the elements of Paul’s doctrine of propitiation. Perhaps, mystical-speculative thinker that he is, he means to suggest that in Jesus’ purpose or general feeling his redemption was for the whole sinful world, but only those have found in him an actual Redeemer or Intercessor to whom he has given power to become Children of the Light. Perhaps it is, on the other hand, the missionary instinct of the Church, which declares here that no limits are to be set to the spread of salvation over the whole world—in contrast to the Gnostic confinement of it to certain gifted individuals. We can form many conjectures; we can reach no assurance.
(To be continued)