Lets revisit James Fraser of Brae, and his thoughts on the extent of the atonement; and how he thought about its universal nature. Keep in mind that Fraser was still a Calvinist, and did believe that there are elect and reprobate people; but he did not believe that Universal atonement necessarily has to lead to universal salvation for all (Contra his counterparts from Westminster). The following quote is quite lengthy, we will be hearing from T. F. Torrance and Fraser; I will close it up with a little reflection–and then we can go at it in the comment section 😉 :
. . . Fraser realized that the extent of the atoning death of Christ had to be thought out in light of the interrelation between the incarnation and the atonement, and so of the saving assumption by Christ of our Adamic humanity which was comprehensive in its nature and range. As the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus embraced all mankind, and therefore what Fraser called all ‘ mankind sinners’. As the first Adam brought death by sin upon all flesh, so Christ came as the second Adam in order by means of death to lay a foundation of reconciliation and life for all. He did not take on himself the nature of man as elected, but the actual human nature of mankind as the object of his atoning death and satisfaction, which applies to all and every member of the human race. Hence it may be said ‘ all men are fundamentally justified in him and by him.’ ‘ Christ obeyed, and died in the room of all, as the head and representative of fallen man.’ Fraser understood this incarnational assumption of our humanity in accordance with St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 8. 2f about Christ condemning sin in the flesh, i.e. all sin in all flesh, and in 2 Corinthians 18. 5f [sic] about Christ being made sin for us, that through his death and blood we might be reconciled to God, and be made the righteousness of God in him. Christ came into the world, then, as mediator not to condemn it but to save it.
Woven into this understanding of redemption through Christ as mediator and Fraser’s understanding of the all sufficiency of the death of Christ, was the place he gave to the reformed doctrine of the active and passive obedience of Christ, his obedient life and vicarious suffering. As with earlier reformed theologians of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah about the suffering servant played a basic role in Fraser’s thinking about the mediatorial life and activity of Jesus, prompting him to take into account ‘ the whole course of Christ’s obedience from his incarnation’ through which he united himself to sinners in an effectually saving way in order that all men might believe. Fraser admitted, however, as we have already noted, that the atoning death of Christ for sinners was ‘ not necessarily effectual’ for all, for there was no physical or necessary connection between them, although there may be one of faith. It is significant that Fraser would not divorce the all sufficiency of Christ’s death from the all sufficiency of his incarnate person and obedient life. This is very evident in the arguments he developed for ‘ a sufficient universal satisfaction for reprobates’.
Quite clearly, then, Fraser held that Christ died for all people, the unbelieving as well as the believing, the damned as well as the saved, the reprobate as well as the elected. How, then, did he think that the death of Christ, not least his atoning satisfaction for sin, bears upon those who reject Christ and bring damnation upon themselves? This was one of the basic issues where James Fraser sided with the teaching of John Calvin, rather than with that of those ‘ Protestant Divines’ who, he complained, had not followed the old road. The particular point we must take into account here is that according to St. Paul the knowledge of Christ is to some people a ‘savour of life unto life’, but to others it can be a ‘savour of death unto death’. In that light it may be said that while the preaching of the gospel of Christ crucified for all mankind is meant for their salvation, it can also have the unintended effect of blinding and damning people—it becomes a ‘ savour of death unto death’. That is how Fraser regarded what happened to the reprobates in becoming ‘ the vessels of wrath’.
The Word of the Lord goeth not in vain, but shall certainly accomplish that whereunto it is sent. Isa.I.5. The Messengers thereof being a sweet savour unto God, in them that perish, and in them that are saved, 2 Cor. ii.15. So the blood of Christ is a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour to the Lord both in them that perish, and in them that are saved.
While the Arminians used this as an argument for universal redemption, Fraser, like Calvin, interpreted it as indicating how the death of Christ proclaimed in the Gospel has a ‘ twofold efficacy’ in which it can act in one way upon the elect and in a different way upon the reprobate. That is to say, it is the Gospel with that acts in that way. Those who reject the blood of Christ thereby become objects of ‘ Gospel and Wrath and Vengeance’ and bring destruction and damnation upon themselves. It is the very condemnation of sin in the atoning satisfaction made by Christ for all mankind, elect and reprobate alike, that becomes the condemnation of the reprobate who turn away from it, and thereby render themselves inexcusable. ‘ Reprobates by the death of Christ are made more inexcusable … If the death of Christ affords clear ground for all to believe, then I think the death of Christ makes all unbelievers inexcusable.’ Fraser spoke of this judgment of the unbelieving and the reprobate as ‘ Gospel wrath’ or wrath of a gospel kind.
God’s intention, end and purpose he designed, was indeed to save the elect amongst them, but not to save the rest, but that they contemning and rejecting the offer salvation might be made fit objects to shew his just gospel-vengeance and wrath upon them, tho’ it be true that God intended the work should have such an end.
According to Fraser this ‘ Gospel-Wrath’ is a worse punishment than ‘ Law-Wrath’.
This was rather harsher than what Fraser said elsewhere, where he was closer to Calvin. Thus in speaking of Christ as ‘ crucified and crucified for our sins’, he wrote ‘ Nothing can be expected from this Saviour but good will: It’s by accident Christ condemns, but his primary end is to give life to the world.’ Again:
I grant indeed Christ doth condemn many, but then consider that such as he condemns it is for flighting of his grace offered in the Gospel; his first office is to preach glad tidings, to hold out the golden scepter that the world might believe and be saved, but then the world misbelieves Christ (for a great part of them did) Christ secondarily condemns and per accidens.If by unbelief they neglect this great salvation, the death of Christ will be so far from saving of them that it shall be their greatest ditty. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell,” 198–201)
Still here 😉 ? Notice how Fraser makes the distinction between creation and election. This allows him to speak about a universal atonement, and at the same time talk about election and reprobation as theological realities. In other words, the incarnation vis-à-vis the atonement becomes the touchstone framework for his articulation of his brand of covenant theology. So on one hand he can say that Christ genuinely died for all humanity, and on the other hand hold that this universal atonement encapsulates both the elect and reprobate. One having a positive response to the Gospel, and one having a negative response to the Gospel.
Something that I like about Fraser, and his approach, is that he provides an alternative, more evangelically motivated Calvinism; contra his rationalist counterparts from Westminster. In other words, whereas Westminster Calvinists frame the whole atonement discussion with logico/causal language so that if Jesus dies, whomever he dies for “will be saved”—i.e. because if he doesn’t save who he dies for then he shed some of his blood in vain, and his sovereignty is called into question. Fraser’s approach reorientates the atonement from the causal rationalist language toward a more Christ centered evangelical framing; he accomplishes this by focusing on the supremacy of Christ over both life and death. For Fraser Jesus is the centrifugal force who alone (along with the Father and Holy Spirit) determines salvific reality for all people. Fraser does not seem to feel forced, as the rationalist Westminster Calvinists does, to explain why some respond positively and some negatively; he just recognizes that this is the reality. And this reality all orbits around Jesus Christ, and his ultimate determination shaped by his triune life.
There is a lot more that needs to be said, but I would say this piece has gone on long enough. If you have made it this far, then I’m sure this quote has prompted many questions; so I’ll see you in the comment meta.