As I never tire of saying, the new birth is not an optional add-on extra. It is absolutely essential, but since we tend to get gummed up on this kind of thing, it is also important to fill that statement in. Essential to what? If we say “essential to salvation,” which is the correct answer, some people will get this truth just half a bubble off, and assume that we have just said that affirming the new birth is essential to salvation. No, not at all — experiencing the new birth is essential to salvation. While affirming it is always a big plus — and who could be against it? — there are people who affirm it who are lost, and people who don’t affirm it who are saved. There is no regeneration genie that we can make come out of the bottle simply by rubbing the right words on the label.
The historic evangelicalism that I am urging upon everybody is utterly dependent upon what might be called an “effectual call evangelicalism.” It is the classic Reformed stance, as represented throughout our confessions. Since I am fond of beer analogies (viz. FV oatmeal stout and FV amber ale), here is another one, only with the colors switched. Reformation evangelicalism is a chewy porter, and North American evangelicalism is the king of lite beers, hailing from St. Louis.
This effectual call is in its turn dependent upon the atonement of Jesus Christ being definite in its intentions and ends. This is why penal substitutionary atonement stands or falls, at the end of the day, with whether a distinction is being made between two kinds of covenant members. There are baptized covenant members who die truly converted to God, and there are baptized covenant members who die not truly converted to God. If that is not the case, then Jesus did not die as a true substitute for His elect.
Now it is true that none of those for whom Christ died (in sense x) will finally perish, but it is also true that some of those for whom Christ died (in sense y) will finally perish. The death of Christ secured more benefits than those enjoyed by those who will be finally saved. For example, the common operations of the Spirit that the Westminster Confession speaks of are blessings that were secured by the death of Jesus. But they were never intended to secure the final salvation of anyone who is not finally saved. What they were intended to do, they did. What they were for, the inclusion of unconverted individuals within the covenant people, they accomplished. For example, it is certainly possible for false teachers to deny the Lord who bought them (2 Pet. 2:1). But what did He buy them for?
If He bought them to persevere in holiness, then they would do exactly that. If they do not persevere in holiness, then they were not purchased by the blood of Christ to that end.
Those who want to say that the efficacy of death of Christ applies to every baptized person, head for head, run into a fundamental contradiction almost immediately. Does the death of Jesus secure the grace of perseverance? If it does, then the efficacy of the death of Christ does not apply to all the baptized head for head (unless all the baptized persevere and are saved). But if the death of Jesus does not secure the grace of perseverance, where does perseverance come from then? It would have to be contributed by the person who is being saved, which amounts, at the end of the day, to salvation by works.
In short, we do not really need to refute the idea that the virtues of Christ’s death for salvation are applied to all the baptized, head for head, and the reason we don’t need to do that is because nobody is really arguing for it. The only way to argue for it is to urge universalism within the covenant (all the baptized are saved at last), or to urge some form of human-controlled contingency within the covenant (perseverance is supplied by the savee). The choices are sacerdotal superstition or Arminianism. But since nobody is urging either one of those, the only way out is to affirm effectual call evangelicalism.
There is no way to steer it by means of raw sovereignty — e.g. the Spirit wrestling externally with each individual — because the Spirit’s work in us, all of it, is purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Pet. 1:2). If the Spirit supplies perseverance, which is the sanctifying grace by which we are saved through to the end, then He is applying a blood-purchased perseverance. But if it is blood-purchased, and baptism communicates this grace, head for head, then all the baptized must be saved.
And if it is not blood-purchased, and God is the one who through His Spirit is dragging this person to his final salvation, then the verb dragging is appropriate, because that person is having the gap between what the death of Jesus purchased for him and his final salvation filled in for him by the Spirit — but it is being done raw, without a mediator. But why would the Spirit work without a mediator? How could the Spirit work without a mediator? Every grace we have is applied to us by the Spirit, and He does it by sprinkling us with the blood of Jesus.
And this is why I would want to say that in the tavern of historic evangelicalism, we should not complain if the chewy porter is the only thing on tap.