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PARTICULAR OR LIMITED ATONEMENT
Of all the five doctrines of grace, none is so despised or opposed as is the limited atonement. Even in the conversion of men to the truth of the doctrines of grace, the limited atonement is usually the last that is accepted by our minds. But the truth of the atonement is a very vital part of the redeeming work of God. It beautifully fits with all the other doctrines of grace, yea, is demanded by all other doctrines of grace. For consider, if there is total depravity there must be election and definite atonement. If there is definite atonement there must be irresistible grace and perseverance. For these reasons there is no such thing as a "Four Point Calvinist". All of the doctrine of grace either stand or fall together. We readily admit that if one of the doctrines of grace can be destroyed, they all can be disproved. They are so inseparably connected that we must admit all or reject all.
All things demand a limited atonement. An indefinite, uncertain, general, universal atonement would save none. Definite atonement is therefore demanded by the following things as we will show as we progress in our study:
First, let us come to grips with the issue of the atonement. Is it for everyone? Is it made only for some? Or, is it made for all men but applicable only to those who "accept it"? The latter is the view of almost all free-willers. Whatever be one's view of the atonement, one thing is certain. The atonement is limited in it's accomplishment, i.e., it does not save everyone! Therefore the atonement must be limited. Since all are not saved by it, it is therefore limited. Somewhere, somehow it is limited. The Arminians call us evil for holding to a limited atonement, yet it is they who actually limit the atonement of Christ. They clearly limit to the will of the sinner. They say, it is effective to save only when man joins his will with the atonement. Therefore universal atonement is a great insult to the blood of Christ, for it teaches that the blood of Christ gains its power to save from man's fallen will. Let them deny it all they will, yet their doctrine leads them to conclude that man's will possesses more power than Christ's blood. With every insistence that Christ could die non-savingly for any man, they are pouring blasphemy upon His precious blood! In a pretense of honouring Christ, His blood, and the grace of God, they are actually making it common and ineffectual.
What Caused You to Believe in a General Atonement?
Were you taught it by revelation? Or, did you hear it from other men? Or, did you come to the persuasion of a general atonement from a careful study of the Bible? If we would be honest we would have to admit that we first held to a general atonement, not from scripture conviction, but because we were taught it by our fellow man. If a man had no preconceived notions and could come to the scriptures without a previously prejudiced mind, he would surely believe in a definite and particular atonement. It comes not from "rightly dividing the word", but from the vain traditions of men.
The Evil of Universalism!
It is indeed strange that those same men, who a few years ago, soundly rejected the "Universal Fatherhood of God and the Universal Brotherhood of Men", have taken another viper to their bosoms, the universal atonement of Christ. They proceed from the same evil and corrupt fountain. They are both the companions of each other. One demands the other. Consistency demands that if a man is a Universalist in one matter, he should be in others as well.
The Teaching of Christ Concerning the Atonement
Who is a greater authority on the subject of the atonement than Christ? Who is better suited to declare the full truth of the atonement than He that made it? Who can better tell us the nature and extent of the atonement but the very Son of God?
Did Christ ever teach an unlimited atonement?
Did He ever claim to make a universal propitiation?
Did He teach that He would die for all men, or desire that all men be saved?
Many are ready to answer, "Yes." But wait! With the exception of John 3:16 does any verse spoken by Christ even seem to teach a general atonement? Though Christ often spoke of His death, yet in each instance He spoke in terms that put limits upon His death. Shall we quickly examine His words?
He spoke of His death as for His sheep, John 10:11, 15. At the same time He distinguished others as not being His sheep, John 10:26.
(John 10:11) I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
(John 10:15) As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
(John 10:26) But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
He spoke of His death as being for "many" but never for all, Matt. 20:28; Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20. "For you," i.e., His disciples. (How could any turn these clear statements of Christ into Universalism?)
(Mat 20:28) Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
(Mat 26:28) For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
(Mark 14:24) And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
(Luke 22:20) Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
He further spoke of His death as for His friends. John 15:13.
(John 15:13) Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Further, Christ never taught that all sins would be forgiven. He taught that many would die in their sins.
The Arminian View of a Conditional Atonement
The Arminians hold that Christ in His death only rendered a conditional atonement, i.e., one that saves only on the conditional ground that the sinner give it efficacy by joining his act and consent with the blood of Christ. (Let us point out that this is also a form of limited atonement, though a false one). Let it be observed that that which man is unable to perform cannot be a condition for man to fulfill . . . furthermore, if the act of man is that which gives the atonement its efficacy, then we are bound to admit there is merit in the acts of men. This, of course militates against the free grace of God, for nothing can be the cause of grace, but the mere good pleasure of God. All the conditions of salvation were fulfilled by the Lord Jesus, acting as the surety of the election of grace. There are no conditions left to be fulfilled by man in order for the atonement to be effectual. Not even faith and repentance are conditions of which man is responsible to perform in order that the atonement might become effectual. Since both faith and repentance are the work of God (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29; II Tim. 2:25-25) and since none can or would believe or repent apart from the work of God in them, they therefore cannot be considered as conditions for man to perform. The conditions of the atonement were settled between God and Christ before the world began. (Tit. 1:12; John 17; Isa. 53:10-12; Ps. 110:3; Matt. 1:21; Phil. 2:611), and many others.
It is very clear in the scriptures that Christ is to fulfill the conditions of the covenant of grace, and that upon doing so, God would save His people. The honour of each is bound up in the covenant of redemption. Christ as the surety binds Himself to redeem the elect. God pledges Himself to pardon those for whom the surety renders a satisfaction in his death. Each, before the world, entered into a solemn covenant and pledged the conditions of redemption. Upon the death of Christ the pardon merited by Christ's blood is bestowed by the Spirit's application. Christ was promised a reward for His suffering, and put in His claims thereunto in His priestly prayer. (Isa. 53:1 1-12; Ps. 2:8; John 17:24) God rewards Christ for His suffering and obedience. It is described in Isaiah 53:12:
"Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death. "
This pictures the rewards that Christ has given him of God as a direct result of His suffering and obedience. His elect people are not a little part of that reward He expects and is granted by God. He has power over all men to save or damn whomsoever He will (John 17:2). This power is given Him by God and relates to the salvation of men.
The Justice of God Demands a Limited Atonement
Will God punish sin twice? Can Christ and the sinner both be punished the full measure of sin? Can Christ die for a man and that man yet go to hell? If Christ has died for all men, why then are not all men saved? If Christ has paid the penalty of sin for everyone, how can God require payment again from the sinner? Is God righteous or not?
There are two things God will not do. He will not clear the guilty. (Nahum 1:3; Exodus 34:7) Neither will he punish where there is no sin or guilt. God is a God of justice and righteousness. He will never act contrary to the principle of strict justice. And salvation is according to the strictest of justice. Justification is justice, a legal pardon based on the substitution of Christ in the stead of his people. Having received from Christ, the price of the transgressions of the elect, God is bound by the principle of justice to forgive the sins that Christ has paid a ransom with his death. Would it be just of God to demand a second payment for the same offenses? Oh, may we say:
"Payment God will not twice demand, first at my bleeding surety's hand, and then again at mine."
This could only be if the justice of God were not satisfied by Christ's death. Yet, if justice were not served by His death, there would be no salvation for any. For God forgives no sin without a just recompense of reward being made. At the same time, having received a due and proper payment for sin, He is just to forgive the sin of the elect because Christ has made proper satisfaction in their behalf to God's justice. They pervert the atonement who overlook this truth of God. As it would be unjust to forgive sin without satisfaction, so it would be unjust not to forgive sin after satisfaction is made. On the principle of satisfaction proceeds the justice of the atonement. Again, the matter of a conditional atonement is dispelled, either Christ died or He did not. In His death, He either paid a ransom for sin or He did not. Either God accepted His death as a payment for sin or He did not. Either His death was a proper payment for sin or it was not. Since Christ did die for sin, and since God did view His death as satisfaction for sin, then in justice God is bound to pardon all the sins of all people for whom Christ died. Justice could demand no more or no less. And nothing less than this is justice. Salvation is not bestowed at the expense of any of the attributes of God, but especially His justice. All are upheld, but especially His justice and holiness. Where is the blasphemer who will call our God such an unjust one so as to collect twice for the same debt? God bound Himself by the honour of His word to remit those sins for which Christ's blood is the propitiation. To proclaim a universal atonement is but to impugn the honour and justice of almighty God.
The Old Testament Types Foreshadow a Limited Atonement
What preacher has not spoken on the Old Testament types? The Ark? The offering of Aaron? Yet, the Old Testament types present a definite picture of a limited atonement. Take the Ark for example. It was not intended for all. Nor did God invite all to enter. It was only designed for the family of Noah. It was not intended for any others. As a type of Christ it is a perfect picture of the limited atonement of Christ Jesus the Lord. And what of the offerings of Aaron? Were they ever made for all the world? Or, for the elect nation of Israel? Aaron only made atonement for the people of Israel. Not one of the Jewish atonement days had universal dimensions. Nor did the Aaronic sacrifices have universal efficacy. Nor were they ever proclaimed to have benefit to the heathen.
The passover is the most famous Old Testament sacrifice. Yet it was for the deliverance of the elect nation of Israel only. It actually brought judgment upon the evil Egyptians.
"I will put a division between my people and thy people," Exodus 8:23.
The marginal rendering for "division" is redemption. Thus the passover became a division, a distinction, a division between the two peoples, the Jews and the Egyptians. It gave deliverance to the Jews, but became the occasion of the Great Judgment to the Egyptians. So the atonement of Christ divides the world into two classes. Those redeemed and those not redeemed. This is why the gospel is life to one and death to others. (II Cor. 2: 15-16) Therefore it is not the intention of the gospel to assure every sinner that Christ has died for all. Any preacher who does so, has stepped beyond the warrant of the sacred and Holy Writ. Where did Christ, or the Apostles, ever assure all men without exception that Christ death is to avail for all?
Election Demands a Limited Atonement!
Though many deny election, yet it is too plain in the holy scriptures to be denied. If men deny or pervert one passage another will cry aloud. The scriptures everywhere proclaim it. Christ owns that there is election. John 1 7:2, 6, 9, 11, 12; John 15:16; Matt. 24:22; John 10:16 and many others. Not all are elect. (This is true even in the silly scheme of things). But there is such a thing as an election of grace (Romans 11:5). Has Christ only chosen some and yet died for all? He repeatedly represented His death as having saving benefit to a certain group of people, the elect. Not once (with the exception of John 3:16) did Christ even seem to intend His death as for all.
Perhaps it is necessary here to take up the matter of John 3:16. Many have taken it as a proof text to support universal atonement and suppose that they put us to flight and forever silence any hope of a limited atonement.
We do not think it is an exaggeration to say that this seemingly easy verse is the most perverted and misunderstood verse in the New Testament. Let us be as brief as it is safe to be. The world has many meanings in the scriptures.
It means the habitable earth. (John 13:1)
It means the system of the world. (I John 2:15)
It means a span of time. (Matt. 28:20)
It means the Gentiles. (Rom. 11:12, 15)
It was understood by the Jews to have reference to the Gentiles. It is perfectly in harmony with the last description to so interpret its meaning in John 3:16. Thus Christ is correcting a common misconception of the Jews that God only loved the Jews. He declares that the love of God also extends unto an election of some Gentiles unto everlasting life. See Acts 13:48; 14:27; 15:9.
The death of Christ is the actual ground of deliverance for the elect. It is for the elect that Christ has died. And they are crucified and raised with Christ. See Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6; Eph. 2:5-6. There can nothing condemn the elect because of the death of Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:32-34). The blood of Jesus is the actual redemption of the elect ones. It has its efficacy to save, not from the will of man, but from the purpose of God and the merit of the person of Christ. It is an infinite atonement and needs nothing joined with it to save. It is impossible for the blood of Christ to miscarry in the case of any for whom it was shed. It is blasphemy to say it can fail. It is an insult to say that men may yet perish in hell for whom Christ has died, and for whom God has received the precious blood of his son as a satisfaction. Therefore, all the Father-hath given the son will be saved. All will come to Christ (John 6:37). He shall save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). "His people" are not only Jews, not only those who come of free will, but those given Him to save in the covenant of grace, which was made before the world began. He came into the world for the express purpose of saving a particular people from their sins. That certain people are the elect of God.
The Infiniteness of the Offering of Christ
The Lord Jesus made an infinite offering for sin. If this were more understood there would be less confusion about the atonement of Christ. God gave sin an infinite blow in the cross. He "condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). Sin can require no more than was given in Christ's death. It received its full measure of punishment in the death of Christ. The same sins can never again be punished, Sin is an infinite offence against God. Christ is an infinite sacrifice. God struck sin an infinite blow in Christ. Therefore the forgiveness must correspond with the merit of the cross. It is not possible to exact more or require more than was required and exacted from Christ, our penal substitute. "God spared not His own son." He spared not Christ from punishment that He might righteously spare the elect in whose stead He died. The offering of Christ merited redemption for the elect in such a way that it cannot be justly withheld. Just as Adam's sin merited our condemnation in such a way that it could not be withheld, so Christ's death merited our justification (Rom. 5:19). Christ died to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). "He shall justify many for He shall bear their iniquities," Isa. 53:11. Christ saves by the merit of His offering which is made possible by the merit of His person. The merit of His offering is imputed to the elect sinner. His death was an act performed in the express behalf of His elect. How then is it possible for Christ to die in men's stead and them not be saved? We emphatically declare, all for whom Christ died must and will be saved!
Christ did not die to make salvation "possible" as the free will "gospel" proclaims. Christ died to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21) so they all must be saved. He gave Himself a ransom for the elect (Matt. 20:28). Can they finally perish? Ransomed and yet lost forever, can it be?
What a rotten stump do most who believe in eternal security hang their doctrine upon. For, to claim eternal security and yet reject the particular atonement is the height of all absurdity. The eternal security of the saints of God has two sure pillars that bear it up.
(1) ELECTION: Eternal security is laid in eternity past. That God willed the salvation of them in eternity past is a sure ground of eternal security. All will be saved that God willed to be saved. None can perish that the Father has predestinated to eternal life. See John 6:37-45; Acts 13:48; II Thess. 2:12-14; II Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:1-2.
(2) THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST: The atonement of Christ insures the eternal salvation of all for whom it was made. He died to save! He died to eternally save! To save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). It is not possible for any to be lost, (either by failing to be converted or by falling out of grace), for whom Christ has died. No charge can be brought against the elect (Rom. 8:32-34). The eternal security of the saints does not rest on man's "decision," or his "accepting Jesus," but on the solid and divine atonement of Christ. How many preachers give assurance by sending them to draw it from their past acts i.e. their decisions, coming forward, their prayers, coming to an altar, etc. etc. . rather than from the wells of salvation. Most religious men have more confidence in their decisions and their free wills than they do in the blood of Christ anyway. The free will of man is made the leading and determining factor in their "salvation". But, their salvation is put into the very capable hands of Christ as not only their saviour, but also their priest and intercessor. Nor did Christ become our surety after we believed, but from all eternity was appointed to be the shepherd and bishop of our souls.
If men' are lost for whom Christ died, it will not be laid at the feet of men only. The surety must answer for their very souls (Gen. 43:8-9). Christ is the surety of the everlasting covenant of grace (Heb. 7:22). He is given a people to save. His honor is at stake. He must bring all that the Father hath given Him (John 10:16). He seeks the sheep until He finds them (Luke 15:4). It is the Father's will that of all which the Father has given Him He should lose none (John 6:39; II Peter 3:9).
The reason there is eternal security is that Christ has died for the elect in such a way that the justice of God is satisfied and they cannot remain in a state of condemnation. Nor, is it the free will of man that gives the atonement its power to save. The ability to save is owing to the infinite merit of the atonement. If this were not so, the acts of men could never give efficacy to the death of Christ Jesus.
It is the height of absurdity to hold to eternal security and yet reject the limited atonement of Christ. On what grounds is there eternal security if there is no definite atonement? It is therefore more sensible to believe in free will and falling out of grace, than to believe in eternal security and not hold to a particular atonement. For consider, it is not the acts of the sinner nor any merit of his acts that will answer for men at the bar of God's judgment, but the blood of our slain surety that pleads our everlasting pardon from sin and its condemnation.
Thus we have shown, that universalism is the greatest insult that can be heaped upon the blood of Christ Jesus. You could not insult His blood any more than to say it was shed for those who will never know the saving blessings of His death. And if it was shed for all, and many will perish for whom it was shed, what is to hinder those falling away again who have been saved?
May the reader be moved to honestly consider the issue. May God deliver us all from our ignorance and prejudice. If this book should fall into the hands of one who never before was confronted with the issue of the limited atonement, may God grant to you the desire to know the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.
Glory to God alone!
This article is taken from the book Leaves, Worms, Butterflies & T.U.L.I.P.S. edited by V. C. Mayes. The book contains articles from a number of Sovereign Grace Baptists, dealing with various aspects of the Doctrines of Grace. It is available from The Historic Baptist, P. O. Box, 741, Bloomfield, NM 87413, $6.00 postpaid.
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