The Great Baptist Debate: Soteriology (Part 2) – Dagg and Boyce

Part 2!

Now to hear from two Calvinistic theologians James Petigru Boyce (1827-88) and John Leadley Dagg (1794-1884).

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The Soteriology of John L. Dagg and James P. Boyce

A clear representation of the views of these two men can be found in their systematic treatments of theology (Manual of Theology and Abstract of Systematic Theology, respectively) where they carefully set forth their understanding of the Scriptural doctrine of salvation. For the purposes of this essay, it will be helpful to compare the views of these two men point by point to the four foundations of Calvinism proposed by Jeremiah Walker.

The first foundation is the immutability of God. Both Dagg and Boyce agree that God is immutable in his essence and cannot change, because of his nature, in any way. He is the unchanging God who remains the same in nature, will, and character. To the premise that God’s elective love must be eternal, both answer in the affirmative, Dagg stating, “Though God is unchangeable, his operation changes in its effect on his creatures, according to their changing character and circumstances,” and Boyce, “The change of conduct, in men, not in God, had changed the relation between them and God.” In these statements is an agreement with Walker that the actions of God are based on the state of the individual.

However, a vast difference presents itself in the way that the individual changes. For Walker, an individual changes state through an encounter of the general, Gospel call and acceptance through his will of the atoning, common grace of Christ. According to Dagg and Boyce there is biblical warrant for dividing the Gospel call into two categories, external and internal. The external call is the simple proclamation of the Gospel, which men can and do reject because of their depraved nature. The internal call is the effectual and regenerating drawing of the Father by the Holy Spirit to repentance and faith. This internal call has been designed by God not to fail, thereby always bringing the subject to salvation. Necessarily, then, because of God’s unchanging nature toward the state of man and the need of a regenerated heart, God relies on his eternal and immutable predestination to effect salvation for the individual. In sum, the individual must have been eternally determined by God to receive salvation through the regenerating call of the Holy Spirit.

The second foundation, according to Walker, is the absence of free agency. This idea means that the will of man is bound and unable to truly and choose in an uncoerceive manner. Both Dagg and Boyce reject this notion and accept free human agency. Mankind, according to Dagg and Boyce, is really free to exercise the will. However, this agency is limited or bound to the nature of the individual. The nature of every man is corrupt and depraved through the fall of Adam so that he cannot choose not to sin. In this thought, man is considered to have a uncoerced will, but is unable to choose that which is right because he is bound by his nature. Therefore, in regard to salvation, the will and heart of man must be acted upon by God in order for there to be any effectual change.

The third addressed foundation of Calvinism is the limited atonement, or particular redemption, of Christ. According to Walker, the atonement must be universal in scope in order for all men to have the ability to choose salvation. However, Dagg and Boyce take issue with Walker on this point, claiming that the atonement of Christ was an actual sacrifice to God that enables the elect to obtain salvation through the moving of the Holy Spirit. Since the atonement really propitiates the wrath of God and cleanses the sinner from sin in the sight of God, the extent of the atonement is necessarily limited if one is to take the doctrines of punishment as true. If the atonement were to be applied generally, all men would sit under the repercussions of Christ’s sacrifice, namely the appeasement of God and eternal life. However, unless one is to do away with justice, condemnation, and hell, this conception of the atonement does not take into account the whole of Scripture. Therefore, if one is to take the doctrine of the atonement seriously, then it must be limited in its scope.

The fourth foundation addressed by Walker is the Calvinistic doctrine of reprobation. This doctrine states that those whom God does not elect for salvation are necessarily predestined for condemnation. Both Dagg and Boyce affirm this doctrine. In essence, the doctrine of reprobation is necessitated by the fact that, in his immutable and eternal decree, God, the sole mover of the sinner to salvation, has predestined some men to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit unto repentance and salvation. Consequently, those who are not predestined for salvation have been chosen to be passed over by the regenerating work of the Spirit. God does not draw everyone to himself but has chosen some to be “vessels of wrath prepared for distruction” (Rom. 9:22). The consequence of God’s choice for some to be saved is that he chooses some not to be saved.

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