James White on the Atonement: Take your dirty little fingers off God’s glory


James R. White

James R. White

“Unlimited atonement” means that God gives everyone the possibility to be saved/redeemed if only they open the door of their radically corrupt hearts and invite Jesus in. James White does a good job of showing why this take on the Atonement takes much away from God’s glory.

There is no getting away from the fact, says C. S. Lewis, that this idea (of glory) is very prominent in the New Testament and in early Christian writings. Salvation is constantly associated with palms, crowns, white robes, thrones, and splendour like the sun and stars. All this makes no immediate appeal to me at all, and in that respect I fancy I am a typical modern. Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity. As for the first, since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb? (C. S. Lewis “The weight of glory” 1942, p. 6)

 In Hebrews 9:12 we read: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for US.” Who is this “us” that have been redeemed? In other words, for whom did Christ die, for whose did he atone? Back up to Hebrews 7:25: (Wherefore) he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.”

So, Christ intercedes only for those who come to him (by Him); no one else. In other words – Jesus’ words, he only prays for those the Father has given him out of the world, and not for (the rest of the) world:

 John 17:6-10

I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gave me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gave them me; and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. 8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gave me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou did send me. 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou has given me; for they are thine. 10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

 If the above verses demonstrate that Christ did not die for the whole world (every individual, what about the following passage that says that Christ died for “all?”

 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:11-15, ESV).

It’s not difficult: the “all” for whom Christ died refers to – in the same sentence – to all those who have died and have been regenerated/born again to a new life in Christ. “All (say “Ahhhhl”) can mean all without exception or all of a specific group; in the verse above, Christians.

James White is my favourite defender of the faith. He never, like any good apologist, apologises for what he believes. One’s favourites, though, sometimes say, unsurprisingly, disagreeable things. In this instance it is what James White says about God’s glory. One of the five “solas” is “To God’s glory alone.” Here is the typical Reformed (Calvinist) position from James White’s very good sermon “The centrality of God in the atonement.

(My insertions in brackets and underlining)

 (Near the beginning, 5th to 8th minute). “We believe in a God who is first and foremost glorifying Himself in creation and that the Gospel is the primary means whereby God, the triune God, the, Son and Holy Spirit glorifies Himself…the creature is not the central player of this entire drama… (Agree). The Gospel is all about what God is doing to glorify Himself.” (Will need to examine this)

Towards the end:

“When the world warps our minds, the result is we try and find ways of inserting our dirty little fingers into the purity of the Gospel itself. Not to try to steal all the glory, I mean we want continue to sing “To God be the glory,” right? But you see we will give 99% of the glory as long as the 1% I get determines my own destiny. That is the dividing between a supernatural faith and a man-centred faith.”

I agree with White that salvation is 100% of the Lord. But does this mean “the Gospel is all about what God is doing to glorify Himself?” (First paragraph)

 James White says yes. Martyn Lloyd Jones, in his sermon on Ephesians 1:6, says the same: “To the praise of his glory,” namely, that the story of our salvation is all about God’s glory. If Jones and White mean “ultimately” and “mainly” about God’s glory, then this, of course, is true. But “all” about God’s glory, is that what God wants? Let us return to John 17: “10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them… 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”

So, Christ has given us, after saving us, some of the glory that His Father gave to Him.

Then there’s Romans 8: “16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

 Not to forget the passage par excellence of those who believe that salvation is 100% of the Lord (non-Arminians): “29 For those whom he foreknew (foreloved) he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8).

And for good measure: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Here is C. S. Lewis again but be careful of “us who really chooses” (“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you” John 15:16):

It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

To those who are jealous for God’s glory, as indeed He is jealous about it Himself (now don’t be silly and say you don’t think God should be jealous – think “zealous”), God is not that jealous that He cannot glorify those for whom he died. In glorifying his own, our glorious triune God does not, of course, share the unique incommunicado glory that is His alone.

 For further discussion see my “The weight of glory.”



2 thoughts on “James White on the Atonement: Take your dirty little fingers off God’s glory

  1. Good points. Every author needs to be read with discernment. Too many folks want easy explanations from secondary sources instead of following the many explicit and implicit calls to read the Law, Prophets, and Psalms as it relates to Christian revelation.

    • Primary is always better. Secondary sources can also be useful. Sometimes they are difficult. Two difficult and very rewarding secondary sources are the two masterpieces “The freedom of the will” by Jonathan Edwards and John Owen’s great work “Commentary on on the Book of Hebrews.”

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