We’re starting a new series on the blog where we will look at old, mostly unknown quotes or debates in reformed theologians of the past. The hope is to both entertain and show that the reformed tradition has traditionally been far broader than many of its contemporary proponents realize. We hope you enjoy it.
By Michael Lynch
In the course of John Davenant’s argument for Christ dying sufficiently for all human beings, Davenant makes some rather startling assertions – at least for those who’ve been taught that the nature which Christ didn’t assume cannot be redeemed.
As such logic goes, the reason that the fallen angels could not be redeemed by the death of Christ is because Christ did not take upon himself an angelic nature. Humans can be redeemed precisely because the second person of the Trinity assumed a human nature.
Davenant, however, seems to disagree:
[A]lthough there was not that similitude of nature between Christ and angels which there was between Christ and mankind, yet this could not hinder that the ransom paid by Christ, that is, the blood of God, should be in itself, on account of its own value, most sufficient to take away the sins of angels also. For what guilt of any creature can be so great, that the blood-shedding of God could not suffice for its expiation, which is of infinite value from the dignity of the Divine person; and therefore, notwithstanding the dissimilitude of human nature, if God had deigned to grant this right in the death of Christ to angels, it would also be applicable for the redemption of angels.
Davenant argues that notwithstanding the fact that Jesus Christ did not take on an angelic nature, had God simply willed that the work of Christ be on behalf of the fallen angels, then they could be redeemed by the person and work of Jesus Christ. Why? Because the work already was of infinite (sufficient) value: “For what guilt of any creature can be so great, that the blood-shedding of God could not suffice for its expiation, which is of infinite value from the dignity of the Divine person.”
Yet, in view of his broader argument, Davenant claims that fallen human beings are “redeemable” on account of Christ’s death in a way that the fallen angels aren’t—viz., because, according to God’s will and decree, Christ was sent to redeem human beings, not angels.
But, coming back to Davenant’s premise, is it true that Christ can have some mediatorial relation to angelic beings apart from him having assumed an angelic nature? Interestingly, many Reformed taught just that! Davenant writes:
“Christ, notwithstanding the dissimilitude of nature, is a sufficient, fit, and suitable head to communicate grace even to angels, from whence it is asserted by the most learned Divines, that the gifts of grace are merited even by the good angels.” (emphasis added).
It was quite common to argue that the gift of perseverance by which the holy angels continued in their holiness was on account of the work of Christ. According to Antonius Walaeus (1573-1639), long-time professor of theology at Leiden, this is the position of Augustine, Chrysostom, and other Church Fathers along with Calvin, Bucer, Junius, et al.
These theologians distinguished between Christ’s mediatorial work as an act of reconciliation/redemption and as a work of conservation. The former pertains to human beings alone, but the latter includes the angels. As Walaeus writes:
There is a debate among ancient and recent orthodox writers whether the angels were in need of a Mediator for the preservation of their original state. We readily concur with the affirmative position (which has very weighty authors), because, on the one hand, in Scripture Christ alone is called the Son in whom the Father, namely by himself, was well pleased; and because, on the other hand, Christ specifically is called the prince and head of angels. And finally, we concur because although the angels had no sin from which they needed to be redeemed, nevertheless, even in them would God’s justice find something lacking for granting the reward of eternal life to them, if He would compare them with himself, and would take notice of them as they are in and of themselves alone, as appears from Job 4:18 and 15:15. To say nothing now about those passages in Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:20, which admittedly are explained by others (but without providing a parallel of similar wording elsewhere) as referring only to the souls that were dwelling in heaven at the time of Christ’s death.
So, did Christ need to take upon an angelic nature to be the mediator of those beings with an angelic nature? If Walaeus and Davenant are to be believed, Christ is the mediator of the whole unfallen angelic host! Ephesians 1: 7–10: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”