The goal of this series is to magnify God’s grace and to humble man’s pride.
This is blog post is based on Covenant Reformed Seminary of Asia’s session on The Sovereignty of God and the Doctrines of Grace: Limited Atonement: Part 1
This is what we call the lonely letter “L”. Of all the five points of Calvinism, this one is the least accepted truth. From the outset, we should be clear that Christ died only for the elect.
The Most Common View of the Atonement: Jesus died for everyone—that is, all people from all places in all times, every single human being that ever existed.
The Whole Issue: THE DESIGN OF THE ATONEMENT.
- What was God’s purpose in sending Christ to the cross?
- Was it to save everybody? Did he come to send everyone without exception?
What if: God sovereignly decided to save everybody in the world, and to have Jesus atone for everybody’s sins in the whole world, and on the basis of that atonement, save everybody, then what would happen? EVERYBODY WOULD BE SAVED!
But: Both Arminianism and Calvinism reject universalism!
The Truth is: Both are particularists! They both believe that only some people will be saved, and not all. Limited atonement is inevitable.
The True Position of Arminians:
- Christ’s atonement is limited in its effect!
- Christ can die in someone’s place and yet that person may still be lost for eternity.
- The power and effect of atonement is limited!
Here is a statement from Roger Olson,
I believe, as do all Arminians and other non-Calvinist Protestants, that Christ died for every single human person in such a way as to secure their salvation without requiring it or making it certain. Subjective appropriation is a condition of said secured salvation being one’s possession. Does that mean some of Christ’s blood was wasted? Perhaps. And that is what makes Spiritual death and hell so tragic—they are so absolutely unnecessary. But God, in his love, preferred to waste some of Christ’s blood, as it were, rather than be selfish with it.1
The Difference: In the reformation tradition, the atonement of Christ is limited in SCOPE. For the Arminians, the atonement is limited in POWER and EFFECT.
THE TRUE NATURE OF THE ATONEMENT
The atonement was a real, actual, substitutionary one, not a possible, theoretical one that is dependent on its efficacy upon the actions of man.
What was really God’s intent? For the Arminians, to make salvation possible to everybody and to leave it up to the people whether they avail themselves of it or not.
One of the proponents of Arminianism, Lewis Sperry Chafer writes, “Christ’s death does not save either actually or potentially; rather it makes all men savable.”2 The Second article of the Remonstrants states, “…Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer…
For the Reformed, God’s intention was to provide salvation so that God is not just working with possibility. He has an eternal design that He brings to pass. And it’s effectual; it works!
Here is the Canons of Dort’s statement in the Rejection of the Errors of the Remonstrants,
Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual. For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them” (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: “When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand” (Isa. 53:10). Finally, this undermines the article of the creed in which we confess what we believe concerning the Church.
THE BIBLE’S ASSERTION
Christ is able to save men completely. He is not limited simply to a secondary role as the greater Assistor who makes it possible for man to save himself. Those who draw near to God through Christ will find full and complete salvation in Him (Hebrews7:25).
Christ’s ongoing faithful intercessory ministry. Christ intercedes for those who draw near to God. Christ is not interceding for those who are not approaching God through Him. Christ’s intercession is on behalf of the people of God.
John 17:9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
Heb 9:11-12 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
Christ did not enter into the Holy of Holies to attempt to gain redemption for His people! He entered in having already accomplished that.
THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT – For Whom Did Christ die?
Joh 10:11, 15 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
John Owen provides six-point observations from these texts including verses 16, 27, & 28 3:
- All men are not Christ’s sheep.
- The difference between men will one day be obvious.
- Christ’s sheep are identified as “those who hear Christ’s voice”; others do not hear it.
- Some who are not yet identified as sheep are already chosen and will become known (“other sheep”).
- Christ died, not for all, but specifically for His sheep.
- Those for whom Christ died are those given to Him by His Father. He cannot, them, have died for those not so given to Him.
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
This is the theology of the majority of people in our land: “The Father wants to save you. The Son is pleading for the Father to save you. They sent the Spirit to try to save you. But it’s all up to you.”
Charles Spurgeon in one of his sermons said,
The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, "No, certainly not." We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer "No." They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, "No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if"—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say, then, we will go back to the old statement—Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say "No;" you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ's death; we say, "No, my dear sir, it is you that do it." We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ's death not only may be saved but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.4
2 Peter 3:8-9 ESV But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
This may be one of the bombshell texts of Arminians, but a cursory reading of the passage, you would notice that the immediate antecedent of “all” is “you” referring to the believers to whom Peter wrote his letter (1 Peter 1:1 ...elect exiles).
John Owen in his famous book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, comments on this passage,
Now, who are these of whom the apostle speaks, to whom he writes? Such as had received ‘great and precious promises’ (ch. 1:4), whom he calls ‘beloved’ (ch. 3:1); whom he opposes to the ‘scoffers’ of the ‘last days’ (v. 3); to whom the Lord has respect in the disposal of these days; who are said to be ‘elect’ (Matt. 24:22). Now, truly, to argue that because God would have none of those to perish, but all of them to come to repentance, therefore he has the same will and mind towards all and every one in the world... comes not much short of extreme madness and folly.5
Did He or didn’t He? Did Christ actually make a substitutionary sacrifice for sins or didn’t He? If He did, then it was not for all the world, for then all the world would be saved.6Edwin Palmer
In this blog, we have seen the importance of knowing the intent and nature of the atonement to settle the issue about its extent. Recognizing and embracing the centrality of Christ’s atoning work sheds light on the seemingly difficult texts that address the extent of the atonement. The intent limits the extent.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
*The Canons of Dort | Christian Reformed Church. (n.d.). http://Www.crcna.org. https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/canons-dort
1 Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism. Zondervan.
2 Lewis Sperry Chafer, “For Whom Did Christ Die?” reprinted in Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (Oct.-Dec. 1980): 325.
3 Owen, John (1992). Life By His Death (Abridged version of the Death of Death in the Death of Christ). 46
4 The Spurgeon Library | Particular Redemption. (n.d.). The Spurgeon Center. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/particular-redemption-2/#flipbook/
5 Owen, J. (1852). Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu; OR The death of death in the death of Christ : with an introductory essay. The Banner Of Truth Trust.
6 E.H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 47.
6 thoughts on “Limited Atonement Part 1”
Truly helpful, thank you for the clarifications and further informations. God bless
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Amen. To God be the glory!
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
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Good post I enjoyed Owens’ points
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Praise God indeed!
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