Limited Atonement II

Last week we looked at the doctrine of Atonement. We considered the Scriptures that teach it. We looked at some of the Greek and Hebrew words wherein the idea of Atonement is found.

We lighted upon a couple definitions though we admit that others could be easily put forth.

The Theologian Leon Morris said of Atonement

“it means a making of one, and points to a process of bringing those who are estranged into a unity… Its use in theology is to denote the work of Christ in dealing with the problem posed by the sin of man, and in bringing sinners into a right relation with God.”

At another point last week we defiined Atonement as,

“Referring to the work of Christ on the cross as provided by the Father where Christ met God’s just and legal ransom demand against man’s sin by paying for the penalty of sin by spilling His blood in sacrifice thereby providing reconciliation by ending the previous sin wrought hostility that existed between God and man and man and God by means of propitiation and expiation.”

We said that we had to keep in mind that Atonement is a general term that includes many particular ideas. We talked about many streams emptying into the river of Atonement. The stream of sacrifice…. the stream of ransom … the stream of reconciliation … the stream of forgiveness … the stream of blood … the stream of substitution… the stream of penal satisfaction … the stream of propitiation … the stream of expiation … the stream of justification .. the stream of mercy seat .. all these streams and others empty into the river of Atonement and create its monstrous meaning. It is a vast River which would take a year of preaching to be exhaustive as to its meaning.

We also talked about how atonement is a legal (forensic) category. I would not have you forget that. I would not have you forget that Atonement is a judicial act whereby sin is dealt with. We note this again because we remind ourselves that in order to be Christian we have to grow in our understanding of these legal categories … these doctrines … if we want to pursue sanctification. Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ will only be as good as is our understanding is of His person and work.

If you remember we said that the Atonement is God’s atonement. He does all the atoning. He provides atonement. He does all the atoning. He does all the suffering. There is nothing left for us to chip in, in this matter of atonement. God has given a completed atonement.

The Scriptures teach this kind of atonement that was completed for us

“For if while we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” Romans 5:10

There it is … we were (past tense) reconciled to God through the death of His Son.

“Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present age…”
Galatians 1:4

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His Grace.” Ephesians 1:7

Now, if this completed nature of the atonement is true then it is absolutely necessary that the atonement be limited because if God made that kind of atonement as Scriptures teach for everybody then the consequence would be that everybody would be saved. If the atonement has the quality of an accomplished event as we have described and if the atonement was general… that is for everybody then everybody would have to be saved.

The fact that some people die in their sins demands either that the atonement is limited for whom God marked out in unconditional election or that the atonement alone isn’t efficient to save a man and that something more must be added that some people who are atoned for add while others who are atoned for don’t add.

But as we saw last week, any addition would redefine the word “atonement” from what we found in Scripture.

And let me pause here for a brief rabbit trail.

Here we have this word Atonement. We have defined it very precisely in a Biblical Worldview. When we use the word Atonement this is what we mean. HOWEVER, when the religious humanist… the Arminian … the Lutheran… Many Baptists … the Penetcoastal … The Roman Catholic … The Wesleyan … when they use this exact same word they are at the very moment using a completely different word. We share the container word “Atonement” but we have nothing in common in terms of the way we are filling that word with meaning. We are so far apart that we may as well be speaking different languages, yet we are using the same exact word. This is the danger of language. As Christians we use the same words but at the same time we take these same words and fill them with radically different meaning so much so that we are not using the same words.

And so we talk about atonement and we both agree that Jesus provides and is the atonement but our agreement is only a surface agreement. We have such serious lexical differences that when we scratch beneath the surface we discover that we are speaking different languages. We use the same words. Perhaps even recite the same confessions. But have precious little if anything in common.

Having said that let’s look at the scriptures that clearly teach the idea that Christ in His atonement work on the Cross died only for a specific people and not for every person who has ever lived. Let us consider, as Berkhof put it, “that Christ died for the purpose of actually and certainly saving the elect, and the elect only.”

Matthew 1:21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name [a]Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Here Jesus is save His people from their sins. This language should not surprises us for in the Old Covenant on the day of Atonement it was the Hebrews and the Hebrews only whose sins were atoned. The surrounding peoples did not have their sins atoned for on the day of atonement. Only the people of God. In the same way Jesus will be saving a people that are unique to Him and who have been given to Him by the Father.

This particularity is found in the Old Testament when in Isaiah 53:11 we read,

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities

Matthew’s Gospel hits this theme of “many but not all” again,

20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

John’s Gospel repeats this idea,

John 10:11 I am the good John shepherd gives His life for the sheep. … 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

John 10:26-29 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.

Here we have a clear example of Limited Atonement. The issue is sheep. Jesus has His sheep whom He says very pointedly “I lay down my life for the Sheep,” and “that He knows His sheep.” The simplest logic tell us that the sheep He knows are the sheep he lays down His life for. A few sentences later Jesus says to His enemies, “You are not my sheep.” Again, simple logic tells us that if His enemies are not His sheep, therefore He does not die for them.

The particularity of the atonement is arrived at in a couple passages where we learn that Jeus died for only the Church.

Ephesians 5:25 tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.

There it is. From whom did Christ die? Here we learn it was for the Church and the Church alone.

Acts 20:28 agrees… there Paul tells the Elders he is addressing,

“to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

Again… Christ’s death is particular and limited to those who comprise the Church.

The Book of Revelation concurs in this,

13:8 – “Everyone whose name had not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb who has been slain.

Here we see that there is a book titled, “The book of the life of the Lamb who has been slain,” and in that book there are names which are written in it and names which are not written in it. The names in the book which are written are the beneficiaries of the Lamb’s atonement. Those names not written in the book are not beneficiaries of the Lamb’s atonement.

And what of the “Us” passages. Pronouns become a big deal. To the Corinthians the Holy Spirit writes,

“For (God) hath made (Christ) to be sin for us.”

And again in Romans 5:8

“God commendeth His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Let us not forget that Paul is writing the Church. He is writing that Christ’s death was for the limited number who did and would comprise the Church.

So it is clear how God speaks in the Scripture regarding the extent of the Atonement.

This next tidbit I offer I think is better read than heard, but we will see how it goes. Hundreds of years ago a Theologian John Owen summed up this whole debate regarding Limited Atonement vs. General Atonement by offering a tight bit of reasoning. It went as follows,

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:

All the sins of all men.

All the sins of some men, or

Some of the sins of all men.

In which case it may be said:

That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.

That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.

But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?

You answer, “Because of unbelief.”

I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!”

If you didn’t catch that you can read it later.

Now… having established that Scripture clearly teaches that Christ did not die for all people but only for the Elect why is there any debate even left.

Well… the answer to that is because Worldviews are what they are. If people have unbiblical presuppositions they are going to come to unbiblical positions and if they are Christians they are going to find those unbibiblical posittions supported by the Bible.

So, I want to spend the rest of our time looking at some of the texts that the Religious Humanists appeal to in order to “prove” per their worldview, that Christ died for everybody.

The Lutheran, Arminian, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, General Baptist, Wesleyan etc. will ask about the word “World” in John 3:16. We could take 20 minutes to thoroughly answer that but lets just offer here that John in his writings uses the word “world” in at least 10 different ways. Every time you stumble across John’s use of the word “world” you have to pause and ask yourself how he is using it. For example, one of his usages is a literary technique that he develops in his Gospel to mean The World System as it lies in opposition to God.

John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

John 14:30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me…

John 16:11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

As concerns John 3:16 the meaning of the word “World” there probably refers to the realm of mankind. Another example of this usage is,

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

Alternately John 3:16 might find John using the word “World” here to communicate that God’s interest lay beyond just the Israelite people. Jews were and remain so provincial that John may have reached for the word “World” in John 3:16 to communicate that God loved more peoples than Jews.

Those who do not believe in Limited Atonement will continue to push on the word “World,” asking,


Why doesn’t “whole world” mean “whole world” as it says in 1 John 2:2: “He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”?



John here is stressing the ethnic plurality of the atonement. It is not restricted to the Jewish nation nor even to those believers he is writing to. The efficacy of the Atonement applies to people from every tribe, tongue and (denomi)nation that God has chosen and so John writes ‘for the whole world.’

And again to take it the way those who hate Limited Atonement take it proves too much. If Jesus is the propitiation for each and every person who has ever lived then each and every person who has ever lived has been propitiated for. The Father’s wrath has been turned from them. This is something that is objectively true and can’t be undone by the subjective will of fallen men. It wouldn’t matter if they told God to, ‘get lost’ they still would be saved since the propitiation has been rendered.



Those who eschew Limited Atonement will go to

2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not willing that any should perish.”

And ask, “Why doesn’t “any” mean “any”?



Here we insist on the context and demand that the whole vs. is considered,

9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward [c]us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Peter writes that the Lord is longsuffering towards ‘US’. Who is the ‘US’ that Peter refers to? Obviously it is the covenant believing community he is writing to. So when Peter immediately then says that “The Lord is not willing that any should perish,” it is obvious that the reference remains the believing community. God is not willing that any of His elect should perish. Hence,

John 6:39 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.

Consider interpreting this the way that our opposition desires. Here we have God not willing any should perish but hang it if some do perish despite God not wanting that to happen. There goes God’s Sovereignty.



The Lord swears in Ezek. 33:11 “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”



If a judge can have no pleasure in the exercise of the death penalty yet have even less pleasure in seeing the wicked go unpunished then God likewise can have no pleasure in the death of the wicked and yet have greater displeasure in not seeing the wicked visited for their sin and so deal justice eternal justice to the wicked.

God can decree both his displeasure over the death of the wicked and His pleasure at seeing His justice upheld.



Why doesn’t “all mean “all” in 1 Timothy 2:4: “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”?



This passage follows the Titus pattern. Paul has said that prayers are to be made for all men. He then goes on to restrict that meaning to ‘Kings and those in authority.’ As Paul narrows the definition of ‘all’ down it is evident that he desires prayer for all classes or types of people. Without such a restriction some Lutheran literalist might have prayed for dead people since the word ‘all’ was not restricted by the word ‘living.’ In this context Paul says God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. The context requires us to see the word ‘all’ as being restricted in the second instance just as it was in the first instance. God desires all categories or types of men to be saved just as he desired the believers to pray for all categories of men.

Secondly, to take this passage the way Arminians/Lutherans take it is to prove too much. If God desires all men to be saved then all men will be saved since God sits in heaven above and does whatever he pleases. Or do Lutherans teach that God sits in heaven above doing whatever he pleases except when man informs God to, ‘buzz off’ when he desires to save him?

Well, there are many more passages and if you can think of some that you want answered we can talk about them in Sunday School if your like.

Let us close with a common objection to Limited Atonement.

1.) Doesn’t this make men lazy in Evangelism?

If Christ has died for a particular number of people and those people will come to Chrit no matter what then why do Evangelism?

First, because that is what the King commands. If the King commands it I don’t question the King.

Second, God has a predestined Elect whom Christ has died for but God also has predestined the messengers who would herald the glad tidings of Christ crucified in order to gather in the elect.

Third, we can’t help it. We have been given the Spirit as a deposit to guarantee that which is to come. As we have been given the Spirit of Christ our desire is to communicate Christ in all of His saving and Kingly offices.

By way of observation we can simply point to the reality that Calvinists throughout the centuries have been the most avid Evangelists. Whether you are talking about

Hudson Taylor in China
John Elliot and David Brainerd among the American Indians in the
Henry Martyn – To Asia
Samuel Zwemer to the Arab Muslim World
Alexander Duff to India
John Gibson Paton to the South Pacific

These and countless others were God’s Evangelists and their belief in the doctrines of Calvinism instead of quieting them made them bold as lions in declaring the command that all men everywhere must repent.

It was the Calvinist missionaries who packed their belongings in coffins to ship off to Africa because they knew they were never coming back and knew they would be buried in those coffins.

So, lets put to bed the objection that Calvinists don’t do Evangelism because of their TULIP.

Indeed, truth be told, we are the only ones doing Biblical Evangelism.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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