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In Fairness to Abelard and Deference to Anselm (Part II): “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

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In Fairness to Abelard and Deference to Anselm (Part II)


“Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?”

Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible


What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), Hymn: “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” [1]



Open Arms and the Smile of Welcome

In reply to his pastor in Michael Phillips’ historical fiction, the visitor pondered,

“. . . what I am wondering is whether God might not be the avenging judge theology has made of him, but might rather be a loving Father to whom Jesus wants to take us in order that he may forgive our sins. In other words, a Father whose arms are open to receive us and to whom Jesus takes us, rather than a Father from whom he must protect us. . . a Father–I can hardly say it, but this is what I am thinking–with a smile of welcome on his face rather than a scowl of rebuke.” [2]

How can God the Father approach the “sons of disobedience” or “children of wrath” [3] with a smile of welcome rather than a scowl of rebuke? Can God the Father better extend the open arm welcome than by offering His Beloved Son on their behalf and expecting only their “good faith” reciprocation? [4] In fact, under the New Testament banner, the “children of  wrath” are reduced to those who refuse God’s gracious offer of his Son on their behalf and, accordingly, can only know God as their Judge.

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. [5]

The word of the cross is God’s gracious answer to Paul’s divinely-inspired assessment of the condition and culpability of humankind. [6] Paul’s gospel proposition was one of a heavenly Father with outstretched arms awaiting the homecoming of the “children of wrath” on the basis of the Son’s intercession on their behalf.

God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God, For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [7]


The Profound and the Foundational

As Abelard viewed it, the cross is the revelation of God’s love– the most positive and powerful moral influence the world has ever seen. The message of the cross captivates men’s hearts shattering their dwarfed and distorted conceptions of God–the products of their own sinful natures, and enables them to trust God. [8] While Abelard’s moral influence theory is as profound as it is biblically demonstrable, [9] it tends toward theological anemia and mere sentimentality. The anti-trinitarian Socinians of the Protestant Reformation era promoted their own watered-down version of the moral influence theory resembling that of modern Unitarians. [10]

Anselm’s perspective was more foundational in the trinitarian sense. For those who view Scripture as Anselm did, Christ satisfied the “Righteous Father” [11] by bearing in his own body and person the punishment due to the sin that violated God’s infinite glory, that defaced God’s image in men, and that alienated them from their Maker. [12] Jesus of Nazareth, being fully God and fully man, was the only one whose obedience unto death could have accomplished such a mediation.

Dr. L. Gordon Tait depicted Anselm’s doctrine of Satisfaction as follows: “. . . that if certain conditions are met or a price is paid, only then will God love us.” [13] But, unless one denies the doctrine of the Trinity, that is simply acknowledging that God’s actions consist with his own Being. Love by biblical definition, however, is divine, and to the thinking of “America’s first philosopher,” requires a Trinity. [14] For God to be happy, he would have to be able to rejoice in his own image, as nothing less could satisfy him. That requires an eternal begetting of the Son whom Scripture affirms as “the image of the invisible God.” [15]

Communication between the Father and the Son would require a third eternal person, namely the Holy Spirit. It is that simple. For the meeting of those conditions and the payment of that price were simply the historical objectification of God’s essential being in the Incarnate Son through a miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, or more particularly the historical manifestation of the eternal triune covenant. [16] As Jonathan Edwards noted,

There was a transaction between the Father and the Son, that was antecedent to Christ’s becoming man, and being made under the law, wherein he undertook to put himself under the law, and both to obey and suffer; in which transaction these things were virtually done in the sight of God; as is evident by this, that God acted on the ground of that transaction, justifying and saving sinners, as if the things undertaken had been actually performed long before they were performed indeed. [17]

Old Testament saints in appropriating God’s mercy were banking on the Son’s future resolution of their spiritual debt crisis in keeping with the divine promissory note so thematic to the Law and the Prophets. [18] But love, biblically defined, involves objectification in time and space: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [19] Anything less than the Incarnation and Substitutionary Atonement, therefore, would have been an ontological [20] impossibility. “God is love,” [21] and he cannot deny himself. [22]


God’s Sovereign Purpose

This is to affirm both the voluntary nature of the actions of the members of the Godhead and God’s independence from men and every other created being. The one triune God is forever free to do as he pleases, [23] except to deny himself which by his very nature would not please him. That is an ontological certainty. His will is Self-determined and resolute. Humans only perceive the nature and purpose of the Atonement after the fact and in the light of His inspired Word–the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. [24]

The “complicity” of the members of the triune Godhead in reconciliation with men as an expression of love is evident in that (1) the Father “set forth” or “foreordained” the Son; [25] (2) the Son offered himself “by the Eternal Spirit” in obedience to the Father’s will; [26] and (3) the Son’s purpose was to make the name of the “Righteous Father” known to those whom the Father had given him. [27] These elect sinners would become personal beneficiaries of the Father’s love for the Son through the Son’s atoning death on their behalf followed by the Resurrection, Ascension, Session at God’s right hand, and bestowment of the Holy Spirit. [28] Thereby Christ himself would indwell them through faith. [29] To affirm the doctrine of Satisfaction is to affirm the triune God.

But what of the classic view [30] of the Atonement? God’s sovereignty over the devil is evident in that the sin which infected the human race through Adam’s transgression reached its apex when Satan entered Judas Iscariot. Upon Judas’s immediate departure from the upper room, Jesus exclaimed, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” [31] No wonder “America’s first philosopher” [32] exclaimed, “Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God!” [33]

From the cross the Son graciously directed the love of the Father toward sinful men, [34] while revealing and enduring, on the sinner’s behalf, [35] the Father’s decreed judgment upon sin [36] evident in Jesus’ cry of anguish: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” [37]

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry. [38]

This is “the faith of God” [39] –the triune “faith which worketh by love.” [40] “God is love.” [41]

“We love because he first loved us.” [42]



[1]. Martin Luther called Bernard of Clairvaux, “the best monk that ever lived, whom I admire beyond all the rest put together.” The Cyber Hymnal

[2]. Michael Phillips, The Secrets of Heathersleigh Hall series, vol. IV, A New Dawn Over Devon, p. 192. The lead character may be the oft-quoted Scottish author George MacDonald whose fascinating but heretical views are voiced by various characters. MacDonald profoundly influenced C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Madelein L’Engle, Oswald Chambers, Hannah Hunnard, and Hannah Whitehall Smith.

[3]. Ephes. 2:2-3; Gen. 3:9-11; 4:22-24; Rom. 5:12f.

[4]. 2 Cor. 5:20-21; Isaiah 1:18; 55:1-3; 6-7; Acts 2:37-38; 16:30-31; Rom. 3:2-3 For a full exposition, see John Bunyan’s Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ.

[5]. John 3:36

[6]. Rom. 1:18-3:31; 1 Cor. 1:18-25

[7]. 2 Cor. 5:19-21

[8]. Luke 18:13; 23:39-43; Rom. 1:16-17

[9]. Isaiah 52:13-15; Mark 15;39; John 6:40; Acts 2:37; Rom. 5:7-8; 1 Cor. 1:18; 1 John 4:8,16-19

[10]. J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, vol. II, pp. 92-93

[11]. John 17:25

[12]. Gen. 3:22-24; Isaiah 59:2; Rom. 5:12, 15-21

[13]. The Piety of John Witherspoon, p. 60

[14]. John H. Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards: A Mini-Theology, p. 32-34

[15]. Col. 1:15; See also Hebrews 1:3.

[16]. Heb. 13:20

[17]. Jonathan Edwards, Works, 1879, 1:637

[18]. Romans 3:21-26; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; Job 19:25-27

[19]. 1 John 4:10

[20]. Webster defines “ontological” as “relating to or based upon being or existence.” As it relates to the Supreme Being, see Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58.

[21]. 1 John 4:8, 16b

[22]. 2 Tim. 2:13

[23]. Psalm 115:3; 135:6

[24]. Rom. 9:14-24

[25]. Rom. 3:25; 1 Pet.1:20

[26]. John 5:19, 30, 36; 10:17-18; Heb. 9:14; 10:7-10

[27]. John 14:6-11; 17:25-26

[28]. John 10:15; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:18-19;14:16-17

[29]. Rom. 3:25; 5:5; Gal. 4:4-6; Ephes. 2:22; 3:16-19.

[30]. William Hordern characterized the classic view as “the doctrine which held sway for the first thousand years of Christianity,” namely “that God, through the death of Jesus, defeated Satan and freed man from Satan’s clutches.” A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology, p. 203

[31]. John 13:27-32; Note: This “head sin”concept is found in Jonathan Edwards’s Miscellanies where his surprising infralapsarian view is specifically stated. See Appendix in David C. Brand’s Profile of the Last Puritan. For what may be the greatest theological treatise ever penned, the reader is referred to Edwards’s Dissertation on the End for which God Created the World.

[32]. Will Durant in his Story of Philosophy so designated Jonathan Edwards.

[33]. A famous quotation from Jonathan Edwards’s Personal Narrative. See chapter 1 of Brand’s Profile.

[34]. Luke 23:34

[35]. Heb. 2:9

[36]. Isaiah 53:10; Mark 14:36; Ephes. 1:9; Heb. 10:7-10

[37]. Mark 15:33-34

[38]. Charles Wesley, “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1742

[39]. Rom. 3:3

[40]. Gal. 5:6

[41]. 1 John 4:8, 16b

[42]. 1 John 4:19


Works Cited

Brand, David C. 1991. Profile of the Last Puritan: Jonathan Edwards, Self-Love, and the Dawn of the Beatific.

American Academy of Religion Academy Series, edited by Susan Thistlewaite.  Atlanta: Scholars Press.

Bruce, F. F. 1961. The English Bible: A history of translations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Buswell, J. Oliver. 1962. A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion. Club Edition containing in one volume, the complete text of: Volume One: Theism and Biblical Anthropology; Volume Two: Soteriology and Eschatalogy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Calvin, John. 1960. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed., John T. McNeill. 2 vols. The Library of Christian Classics. Vols. 21 & 22. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Edwards, Jonathan. 1879. The works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M., rev. & ed., Edward Hickman, 2 vols. 12th edition. London: William Tegg & Co.

Geneva Bible. 1560.

Gerstner, John. 1987. Jonathan Edwards: A Mini-Theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tydale House Publishers.

Holy Bible (English Standard Version). 2001. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Hordern, William. 1955. A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology. New York: The MacMillen Company.

Horton, Walter Marshall. 1955, 1958. Christian Theology: An Ecumenical Approach. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers.

Lewis, C. S., ed. 1978. George Macdonald: An Anthology. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Tenth Edition. 1994. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

Phillips, Michael. 1998. The Secrets of Heathersleigh Hall. 4 vols. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers.

Simpson, E. K. And F. F. Bruce. 1957. The Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

The Cyber Hymnal

Tait, L. Gordon. 2001. The Piety of John Witherspoon. Louisville, Kentucky: Geneva Press.

Walker, Williston. [1918] 1952. A History of the Christian Church. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.


About the Writer
David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona. He and his wife reside in Ohio. They have four grown children and six grandchildren. With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing. One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.
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