Limited Atonement - compiled by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

T.U.L.I.P. - The Doctrines of Grace

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God sends Christ to die and Christ dies on behalf of His people, church and sheep. He doesn’t die for the goats. His death actually DOES SOMETHING upon the cross. It is not to make a hypothetical “way” but actually secures the salvation of His people. Isn’t that assuring?

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is not limited in its power to save, but in the extent to which it reaches and will save certain individuals.

Limited atonement is a theological term that has been used for centuries to define a very important aspect of the Gospel. It is a fundamental Christian doctrine which states that Jesus Christ came and died for a limited number of people. He did not die, or redeem, every individual for all of time, but for some individuals, i.e. Christ is the Savior of only those He loves. For his friends, (John 15:13), His church (Eph. 5:25), His sheep, not the goats (John 10:15), to those He will reveal the Father to (Matthew 11:27), His chosen (John 15:19; 17:10-17). This does not mean that the power of His death could not have saved all men if He wanted to. The power and efficacy of His death in and through one drop of His blood could have saved a million-billion worlds. However, that was not what God intended. The Bible never speaks of Christ’s work as “possible” but only “actual.” The Scripture does not dabble in “possibilities.” It does, however, state that the scope of His death is limited.

Jesus Christ, much like the lamb of the Old Testament sacrifice, died for some people, and secured the salvation of those people through His death which took away their sin and imputed (or accounted) His own righteousness to them. This is something Christ accomplished on the cross; not something individuals initiate. It is true, as the Scriptures state, that he died for “all men” and that God loves “the whole world”. In these cases “all men” cannot mean every individual inclusively for all time including Judas and Pharaoh. Nor does it necessarily follow that Christ died for the whole world because God loves the whole world inclusively. (For a study of these passages see my work on John 3:16, John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ, books 1, 2, 3, and 4; or in Calvin’s the “all” passages.) Jesus secured the salvation of those for whom He gave his life, and for those God imputes His righteousness upon them. Jesus does not infallibly secure the salvation of all men, for then, all men would be saved.

As the Maxim goes:
God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for either:
1) All of the sins of all men – which means all men are saved.
2) Some of the sins of all men – which means men are still in their sins.
3) All of the sin of some men – which is the biblical position.

Those who hold to a deviant “gospel” must grapple with the fact that Jesus does His saving on the cross. All those for whom he died will be saved in time and justified by God.

It is not that Christ’s power is “limited” but rather His intent or use OF THAT POWER is limited to those for whom He died, and chose.

The “limitation” of the extent is a deciding factor in the Gospel message as to whether one believes that the God of the Gospel SAVES, or that men save themselves because Jesus did not save anyone directly, but made it hypothetically possible that they could reach out and save themselves. Hypothetical salvation is no salvation at all.

Jesus died and secured the salvation of all those that the Father gave Him, and that cannot be snatched out of the Father’s hands. It is not that Christ “might save,” but that He IS the Savior. He does not lay His life down for all, but for His sheep. He does not give His life for Judas, but only for His friends. It is the church, not the world, which Christ has purchased with His own blood.

God’s love is seen in the Old Testament (Deut. 7:13. Song of Songs 1:9; Isa. 43:4; Jer. 31:3; Amos 3:2), and God’s hatred of the wicked is seen in the Old Testament, (Psalm 5:5, 11:5; 45:7, Proverbs 16:4; Isa. 13:11; Exod. 32:33). In the New Testament, God loves his people in Christ, (Romans 5:8, 8:39, 1 Tim. 1:14; 2 John 1:3; Jude 1:21), and equally in the New Testament, God hates evil doers and the reprobate, (Romans 1:24, 28; Romans 9:13, 11:22; 2 Tim. 3:8; Titus 1:16; Rev. 2:6, 15.)

Here are only a few verses that directly prove God’s intention in a limited atonement.

John 6:37-40, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Matthew 1:21, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

John 10:15, “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”

A Few Puritan Quotations on Limited Atonement and from Others:

“Election is ascribed to God the Father, sanctification to the Spirit and reconciliation to Jesus Christ. This is the chain of salvation and never a link of this chain must be broken. The Son cannot die for them the Father never elected, and the Spirit will never sanctify them whom the Father has not elected nor the Son redeemed.”
Thomas Manton

“Application is the making effectual, in certain men, all those things which Christ has done and does as mediator.”
William Ames

“As for the intention of application, it is rightly said that Christ made satisfaction only for those whom he saved.”
William Ames

“[If Jesus died for all men]…why then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But his unbelief, is it sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be sin, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it; If this is so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins.”
John Owen

“We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. 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. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say that we limits 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.”
Charles Spurgeon

“Jesus Fulfills the Eternal Covenant Scripture represents the Lord Jesus Christ, in all that He did and suffered for His people, as fulfilling the terms of a gracious compact or arrangement which He had entered into with His heavenly Father before the foundation of the world. 1. Jesus was sent into the world by the Father to save the people whom the Father had given to Him. Those given to Him by the Father come to Him (see and believe in Him), and none of them shall be lost. (John 6:35-40) 2. Jesus, as the good shepherd, lays down His life for His sheep. All who are “His sheep” are brought by Him into the fold and are made to hear His voice and follow Him. Notice that the Father had given the sheep to Christ! (John 10:11, 14-18, 24-29) 3. Jesus, in His High Priestly Prayer, prays not for the world, but for those given to Him by the Father. In fulfillment of the Father’s charge, Jesus had accomplished the work the Father had sent Him to do – to make God known to His people and to give them eternal life. (John 17:1-11, 20, 24-26) pp. 45-48” ― David N. Steele, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented

“The door of the visible church is incomparably wider than the door of heaven (522)[.]” Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest

“God will have all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), and he gave his Son for us men, and he created man for the sake of eternal life. And likewise: Everything is there for man’s sake and he is there for God’s sake in order that he may enjoy him, etc. But this objection [to God’s sovereignty in salvation] and others like it can just as easily be refuted as the first one: because all these sayings must be understood only with respect to the elect [emphasis in original], as the apostle says in 2 Timothy 2:10, “All for the elect.” Christ did not die for absolutely all, for he says: “This is my blood which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20) and “for many” (Mark 14:24)- he did not say: for all- “to the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). [Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, translated and edited by Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), 252.]

“This doctrine does not mean that any limit can be set to the value or power of the atonement which Christ made. The value of the atonement depends upon, and is measured by, the dignity of the person making it; and since Christ suffered as a Divine-human person the value of His suffering was infinite . . . The atonement, therefore, was infinitely meritorious and might have saved every member of the human race had that been God’s plan. It was limited only in the sense that it was intended for, and is applied to, particular persons; namely for those who are actually saved”(Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination , 151).

“The Calvinist limits the extent of (atonement) in that he says that it does not apply to all persons . . . while the Arminian limits the power of (atonement), for he says that in itself it does not actually save anybody”(Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination , 153).

Ursinus, “Christ satisfied for all…” but not in respect to its application.

Ambrose (c. 339-97): Although Christ suffered for all, yet He suffered for us particularly, because He suffered for the Church. Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), Book VI, §25, p. 201.

Ambrose (c. 339-97): Great, therefore, is the mystery of Christ, before which even angels stood amazed and bewildered. For this cause, then, it is thy duty to worship Him, and, being a servant, thou oughtest not to detract from thy Lord. Ignorance thou mayest not plead, for to this end He came down, that thou mayest believe; if thou believest not, He has not come down for thee, has not suffered for thee. “If I had not come,” saith the Scripture, “and spoken with them, they would have no sin: but now have they no excuse for their sin. He that hateth Me, hateth My Father also.” Who, then, hates Christ, if not he who speaks to His dishonor? — for as it is love’s part to render, so it is hate’s to withdraw honor. He who hates, calls in question; he who loves, pays reverence. NPNF2: Vol.: Volume X, Of the Christian Faith, Book IV, Chapter 2, §27.

Ambrosiaster: The people of God hath its own fulness. In the elect and foreknown, distinguished from the generality of all, there is accounted a certain special universality; so that the whole world seems to be delivered from the whole world, and all men to be taken out of all men. See Works of John Owen, Vol. 10, p. 423.

Hilary of Arles (c. 401-449) commenting on 1 John 2:2: When John says that Christ died for the sins of the “whole world,” what he means is that he died for the whole church. Introductory Commentary on 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 177. Latin text: et non pro nostris tantum. set etiam pro totius mundi peccatis; Aecclesiam mundi nomine appellat. Expositio In Epistolas Catholiicas, Incipit Epistola Sancti Iohannis Apostoli, Cap. II, v. 2, PL Supp. 3:118.

Augustine (354-430): 2. But alongside of this love we ought also patiently to endure the hatred of the world. For it must of necessity hate those whom it perceives recoiling from that which is loved by itself. But the Lord supplies us with special consolation from His own case, when, after saying, “These things I command you, that ye love one another,” He added, “If the world hate you, know that it hated me before [it hated] you.” Why then should the member exalt itself above the head? Thou refusest to be in the body if thou art unwilling to endure the hatred of the world along with the Head. “If ye were of the world,” He says, “the world would love its own.” He says this, of course, of the whole Church, which, by itself, He frequently also calls by the name of the world: as when it is said, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” And this also: “The Son of man came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” And John says in his epistle: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also [for those] of the whole world.” The whole world then is the Church, and yet the whole world hateth the Church. The world therefore hateth the world, the hostile that which is reconciled, the condemned that which is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed. 3. But that world which God is in Christ reconciling unto Himself, which is saved by Christ, and has all its sins freely pardoned by Christ, has been chosen out of the world that is hostile, condemned, and defiled. For out of that mass, which has all perished in Adam, are formed the vessels of mercy, whereof that world of reconciliation is composed, that is hated by the world which belongeth to the vessels of wrath that are formed out of the same mass and fitted to destruction. Finally, after saying, “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own,” He immediately added, “But because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” And so these men were themselves also of that world, and, that they might no longer be of it, were chosen out of it, through no merit of their own, for no good works of theirs had preceded; and not by nature, which through free-will had become totally corrupted at its source: but gratuitously, that is, of actual grace. For He who chose the world out of the world, effected for Himself, instead of finding, what He should choose: for “there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace. And if by grace,” he adds, “then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate LXXXVII, §2-3, John 15:17-19.
Augustine (354-430): Hence things that are lawful are not all good, but everything unlawful is not good. Just as everyone redeemed by Christ’s blood is a human being, but human beings are not all redeemed by Christ’s blood, so too everything that is unlawful is not good, but things that are not good are not all unlawful. As we learn from the testimony of the apostle, there are some things that are lawful but are not good. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Adulterous Marriages, Part 1, Vol. 9, trans. Ray Kearney, O.P., Book One, 15, 16 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 153.

Chrysostom (349-407) on Hebrews 9:28. “So Christ was once offered.”: By whom offered? evidently by Himself. Here he says that He is not Priest only, but Victim also, and what is sacrificed. On this account are [the words] “was offered.” “Was once offered” (he says) “to bear the sins of many.” Why “of many,” and not “of all”? Because not all believed, For He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing. NPNF1: Vol. XIV, Epistle to the Hebrews, Homily 17.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466) commenting on Hebrews 9:27-28: As it is appointed for each human being to die once, and the one who accepts death’s decree no longer sins but awaits the examination of what was done in life, so Christ the Lord, after being offered once for us and taking up our sins, will come to us again, with sin no longer in force, that is, with sin no longer occupying a place as far as human beings are concerned. He said himself, remember, when he still had a mortal body, “He committed no sin, nor was guile found in his mouth.” It should be noted, of course, that he bore the sins of many, not of all: not all came to faith, so he removed the sins of the believers only. Robert Charles Hill, Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Vol. 2 (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), p. 175.

Bede (672/673-735) commenting on 1 John 2:1: The Lord intercedes for us not by words but by his dying compassion, because he took upon himself the sins which he was unwilling to condemn his elect for. On 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 177. Latin text: Interpellat ergo pro nobis Dominus, non voce, sed miseratione, quia quod damnare in electis noluit, suscipiendo servavit. In Primam Epistolam S. Joannis, Caput II, PL 93:89.

Bede (672/673-735) commenting on 1 John 2:2: In his humanity Christ pleads for our sins before the Father, but in his divinity he has propitiated them for us with the Father. Furthermore, he has not done this only for those who were alive at the time of his death, but also for the whole church which is scattered over the full compass of the world, and it will be valid for everyone, from the very first among the elect until the last one who will be born at the end of time. This verse is therefore a rebuke to the Donatists, who thought that the true church was to be found only in Africa. The Lord pleads for the sins of the whole world, because the church which he has bought with his blood exists in every corner of the globe. On 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 178.

“Then, in the second place, the ‘five points’ present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive evangelical values. The negative cast of the ‘five points’ is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel – that Christ is a redeemer who really does redeem.” JI Packer, Introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death.

Bible Verse:

"...and let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful." (Col. 3:15).

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