Limited Atonement: An ex- “high/per Calvinist’s” journey to date.

What is recorded below, is a synopsis of a two part talk recently given at a small think-tank. I was asked to attend and bring something to the group of how my understanding of the doctrine of the atonement had changed. Why I no longer hold to the more typical conceptions and formulations surrounding the idea of “Limited Atonement” – and yet do not surrender one iota of ground on the realities of God’s sovereignty in salvation, nor His own sovereign election of men unto to salvation, nor His power and action in predestination.

If you would prefer to hear the audio of these two presentations, you can click HERE: REID’S AUDIO and once there, click on the two sessions bearing my name. They were a bit stream-of-consciousness, but also cover some other areas which might be helpful and/or of interest.

For a tremendous amount of research into this topic regarding Calvin’s own statements on the atonement, as well as many other of the Reformers and Puritans – CLICK HERE FOR CALVIN & CALVINISM

I will freely admit that I remain in process in this discussion. My research, study and analysis is far from over. And I believe I can say in all honesty, I do not have a need for my final thoughts on this topic to end in a specific place, save for those things which it is already clear from Scripture cannot possibly be the case – such as a universal salvation.

Due to time constraints I was forced to omit an historical survey of the debate over Limited Atonement in the Reformed & Calvinistic camps, and a plethora of quotations establishing the wide scope of views and nuances within the debate.

In answer to one questioner who asked how this view differed from the Arminian view of the atonement? I had two brief responses.

1 – I can no more deny the statement “Jesus died for all men” because it is also said by Arminians, than I can deny the doctrine of the Trinity because it is held as a dogma by Roman Catholicism.

2 – Arminian theology posits that Jesus in fact had no elect He fully intended to save, who were predestinated before the foundation of the world unto salvation. The atonement merely made salvation a possibility. James Arminius’ foundational issue was with the doctrine of predestination. He simply could not admit it. Scripture in my view cannot be clearer on the subject. Nor can a sovereign election unto salvation by God not based upon mere foreknowledge be denied. These are Scriptural givens.

But neither do I feel the need to posit that because these two things are true, somehow they require a doctrine of the atonement that denies that Jesus died for the sins of all men, paid the penalty for all, died in their place, and yet they are not sovereignly brought to salvation and will justly perish in their own sins. I will freely admit there is a mystery in it. But also assert it is the Bible’s teaching upon the subject. Nor do I find any reason to try and controvert the clear Scripture record that God genuinely loves all men, sincerely desires the salvation of all, and sincerely invites all to it on the basis of Jesus’ atonement, and yet does not sovereignly work in all to accomplish it. Same mystery. Same need to leave it with God.

So as not to exhaust you, my basic plan was to cover several key points.

1. Quoting Carson from the “Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”, and R. C. Sproul in “What is Reformed Theology?”, I dealt with the inadequacy of the term “limited Atonement” itself. That it is not the atonement as an act which is limited in any way, excepting that, it was what it was – an atonement, and not something else. No one except a very narrow Hyper-Calvinist would say the atonement is limited in sufficiency. And thus the term (coined I believe by Loraine Boettner in 1942 when he first published the acronym T.U.L.I.P.) is a poor one to work from. I advanced my preference for the term “objective” atonement – though I’m not married to it.

My second issue with the term LA is that it also gives rise to ideas like: Jesus died one way for one group, and another way for another group. The truth is, this isn’t a Scriptural use of atonement language, it is confusing and introduces a very artificial idea into it all. Christ died. Period. He didn’t die different ways. To say He died one way or another is to move us away from the real questions like: What comes of His death? What does it mean? What does it accomplish? Does it do what it does all at once? How does a man gain an “interest” in it? etc.

I added briefly here a reminder that Christ dies – died, but once, for all. He did not die as many times are there are elect persons. He died but once. That one and the same death, is applied to all who believe. But it is nonetheless but one death. It is applicable to all. It is this one death the Father willingly receives in the place of all the just deaths of those who believe. There is no limitation in this death in the sense sometimes applied to it.

2. I talked about our tendency to speak of atonement as though it were purely ex opere operato (in the doing, it is done). Scripture is clear that it is on the basis of the atonement that we enjoy the realities of salvation. Nevertheless, it is by faith we are justified, not by the atonement in the abstract. Eph. 2:3 demonstrates without contradiction that prior to faith, the elect “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”. This was entered into again later as I developed the difference between paying for sin, and justifying someone. This is a crucial distinction. To utilize Bruce Ware’s thoughts on this, if even the elect remain children of wrath until we are justified, Scripture has revealed how it is Christ could pay for a man’s sins, and a man still be lost. I’ll did come back to this issue again.

At this point I did note how that there was an “automatic” aspect of the atonement. This aspect has to do with propitiating the Father. Upon Christ’s death, the Father in effect said: “I am satisfied with this death, this blood, this sacrifice. All who come to me by means of this same Lamb, I will freely and lovingly accept. I am satisfied with Him as a substitute for any and all who will come in His name. I will not accept them alone, nor with any other substitute. With Him alone am I satisfied.”

Now, each one is required to appropriate the Lamb for himself. Each one must bring the same blood. Each one must believe that the Father is satisfied with Christ, and that if I come in Him, He will be satisfied with me.

Though the analogy is a mean one, nevertheless idea of escrow is useful here. An idea not altogether foreign to the Word either. I believe it can easily be substantiated in the symbol of saving up of the ashes of the red heifer (see: Numb. 19). Christ’s sacrifice satisfied the Father, so that He would be willing to take in any who come by virtue of it, and it is sufficient for all. All are invited to take advantage of it by faith. The payment is made. What remains is to have our guilt removed. And this, is a function of justification. Justification is on the basis of the atonement for sure – but yet to be properly distinguished. Otherwise, we open ourselves up to a charge that John Owen tried (unsuccessfully I believe) to clear himself of – arriving at some form of eternal justification. A man may well make full restitution for his crimes – such does not alleviate His guilt. He is nonetheless still guilty of having committed the crime. Even if someone else were caught, tried, convicted and executed for his crime. He is still guilty. He must somehow be made righteous.

Christ has paid for the sins of all. Restitution (if you will) has been accomplished as well. The glory of God has been restored. Perfect obedience has been lived out. A perfect sacrifice has been slain. But until I can be declared “not-guilty” – “righteous”, I am still liable to my death. There are those in Hell now for whom Christ paid the just penalty for every sin. But they remain unjustified, still in their guilt, and therefore are still punished accordingly.

Is this double jeopardy? No. It would be double jeopardy if THEY paid the penalty twice. But not if He laid up a satisfaction which fully recompensed the Father, which the Father would be pleased to receive as well if they would but come by virtue of it – owning Christ as THEIR sacrifice by faith. The problem isn’t that He didn’t satisfy the Father, but in a way, that He doesn’t satisfy US! We must appropriate Him by faith.

Thus we have the Scripture declaring the Father was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, but we are still plead with to “be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20) He offered up His lamb to cleanse the Temple that we might be able to be received into it. We must offer up ours, that we might be declared just so that we CAN enter. We both offer the same Lamb. The Father will only be satisfied with Christ alone.

3. Growing out of the problem of #2, we discussed the need to recognize again the agency of the Spirit in applying salvation. That it is not “automatic.” He applies the benefits of Christ’ death to us in space and time. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3 & 5). Upon the queries after salvation, no one in the Scripture is ever directed to see if they are elect, and then just realize their status and the salvation that comes with it. All are directed to repent and believe. Apart from faith there is no justification, regardless of the work done at Calvary. That does not diminish Christ’s atoning work there, it is to appropriate Scripture language and sequence in terms of how one comes to partake of it savingly. If anything, this emphasizes the need for the work of the Spirit to use the Word of Christ preached to create faith in the soul (Rom. 10:17)

4. Painful as it is (for a systematics guy that is, as I am) I addressed very briefly the problem of our systematizing doctrines based upon a view of the “order of the decrees” which in fact we cannot know – for God has not revealed them. Calvin assiduously avoided this where his heirs ran rampant with it. This is neither safe nor wise. With this, I spent a short bit on why we must beware our own logical conclusions. We can be flawlessly logical, and yet wrong, if our conclusion contradicts revelation. It is logical to assume that if God gets glory from forgiving my sin, that increasing my sin increases His glory. But Paul’s “may it never be!” is the only appropriate response to what is actually pretty sound reasoning. Sound, except that revelation contradicts it. Paul confronts this problem of arriving at a logical but incorrect conclusion several times in Romans. We cannot safely extrapolate beyond revelation in concretizing doctrine. We must be held captive to what He was pleased to reveal – which belongs to us and our children (Deut. 29:29). While letting the hidden things remain with Him. No matter how logical it seems.

5. I spent some time on how we ask the questions around atonement debates in ways which are designed to produce certain answers. When we ask “did Jesus die for all men, or only for the elect” – our presupposition is that there can be no other alternatives. This is a dishonest approach. Who says it can only be one or the other? We face this tension in a number of crucial doctrinal areas. Is Jesus human or Divine? Yes. Is the Bible written by the Holy Spirit, or men? Yes. Is God one, or three? Yes. Did Jesus die for all men, or only for the elect? Yes! The requirement of a strict antithesis robs the Bible of its use of both/and language in this regard. It lays revelation captive to logic, rather than the other way around.

From this I ventured into the problem too of asking “what was God’s intent in the atonement?” The problem being the question will only admit of an answer in the singular, and forces us to cram all of the Biblical data into that paradigm. It leaves no room for asking if God might have had more than one intent. Here I brought up Dr. Ware short scheme of 5 intents, and went on to establish multiple intents in God by way example from the Law. It is incontrovertibly God’s intent that “thou shalt not kill.” Yet it is manifestly incontrovertible that in God’s sovereignty, men are permitted to kill one another all the time. We dare not posit a lack in His sovereignty. We dare not posit self-contradiction. But we can indeed see more than one intent working at one and the same time. These are not a contradiction. They allow God to be God. Why in the mystery of His being, He does not save all, when He earnestly expresses His desire to have all saved, and makes provision accordingly is something He must unravel, not me. We must fulfill our ambassadorial roles in pleading with all men as though it were God’s own voice – “be reconciled to God.” Let the mystery rest with Him. Do not try to resolve it.

6. I did then go back and develop the first pictures of atonement in Gen. 3. These initial observations of Man’s Fall and the Promise of th Redeemer ought to be crucial to our understanding of how atonement themes are to be understood. Sadly, they are nearly completely ignored. As a quick digest, I would note the following things from a reading of Genesis 3:

Let me also preface this with several needed contextual comments initiated by Bunyan in his work on Reprobation. Things needed to inform our overall interpretation of what comes after.

NOTE: All are created upright in Adam / Elect & non-Elect.

NOTE: All are created in the image of God / Elect & non-Elect.

NOTE: All are created for His glory / Elect & non-Elect.

NOTE: All fall together in Adam / Elect & non-Elect.

Now – Observe in the narrative:

a. The NEED for atonement is created by human sin. Man wanting to BE God.
b. Atonement is INSTINCTIVELY perceived as need by fallen man on some level. Hence the creation of all human religion, and man’s attempt to cover himself.
c. Atonement was first humanly ATTEMPTED apart from God by fabricating cover. It was not received by God as sufficient.
d. Atonement is seen as humanly UNACHIEVABLE.
e. God’s act of atonement first addresses NAKEDNESS (the need for cover).
f. God’s act of atonement secondly addresses their FEAR of God (due to guilt).
g. Atonement is God initiated.
h. Atonement is humanly resisted.
i. The second human attempt at atonement was BLAMESHIFTING.
j. Atonement was for the human race ONLY – no angelic provision.
k. Atonement was for BOTH sexes. The woman was not subsumed by the man as in the Mosaic covenant.
l. Atonement was for “unintentional” sins or sins of ignorance – Eve was deceived.
m. Atonement was for “intentional” sins – Adam was not deceived. Note that under the Mosaic code, a sacrifice had to be brought for such sins, but that the person also had to die.
n. Atonement was for COLLECTIVE sin – The RACE was covered.
o. Atonement was for INDIVIDUAL sin – EACH were covered.
p. Atonement was SUBSTITUTIONARY.
q. Atonement required a substitutionary DEATH.
r. Atonement FORESTALLED immediate FINAL judgment.

s. The promise of the Seed who was to come to bruise the Serpent’s head is made to all mankind in Adam & Eve.

I also expanded on how the sacrificial system retained a dual aspect in sacrifice (as above). The lamb on the Day of Atonement was slain to cleanse the Temple, not the people. The scape goat demonstrated expiation. But each was still responsible to bring his own sacrifices in due time. All three of these are types of Christ (as as others) and cannot be ignored with out flattening out the atonement portrait or collapsing all of it into only one aspect. Christ is always the only sacrifice God will accept etc. But He is appropriated one way by the Father, and another way by us.

7. I developed ever so slightly the idea that the atonement picture in Adam and Eve is one of GENERAL atonement – a promise made to all mankind. The picture in Cain & Able of INDIVIDUAL atonement. Each needing to bring a sacrifice by faith commensurate with God’s. And the 3rd picture in Noah & the Ark (kopher being the first use of atonement in the “pitch”) and how the emphasis there is upon the GRACE aspect of atonement.

And I closed with this quote from J. C. Ryle.

“I will give place to no one in maintaining that Jesus loves all mankind, came into the world for all, died for all, provided redemption sufficient for all, calls on all, invites all, commands all to repent and believe; and ought to be offered to all—freely, fully, unreservedly, directly, unconditionally—without money and without price. If I did not hold this, I dare not get into a pulpit, and I should not understand how to preach the Gospel.

But while I hold all this, I maintain firmly that Jesus does special work for those who believe, which He does not do for others. He quickens them by His Spirit, calls them by His grace, washes them in His blood—justifies them, sanctifies them, keeps them, leads them, and continually intercedes for them—that they may not fall. If I did not believe all this, I should be a very miserable, unhappy Christian.”

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1880), 3:186.

I have omitted a large section I did on arguing that part of our view is errant because we are looking at it only from inside the perspective of the Mosaic covenant community. A bit like trying to describe what your house looks like to someone coming to visit – only by descriptions of the inside. We have to back up before the Mosaic covenant, and even the Abrahamic covenant and see how God revealed concepts of atonement from the get go.

I also spent time on how we must also ascertain where God is going in redemptive history if we are to get a clearer understanding of the trajectory of all things since Adam. Based upon 1 Peter 2:9-10 & Rev. 20-21, it looks like His final goal is the divinely ultimate manifestation of His mercy and grace through eternal, familial society with a redeemed humanity. Paul’s logic? The more that get saved, the more glorious He is. The doctrine of the atonement ought to blast us into evangelism, never dampen it.

Bruce Ware’s “multiple intentions”.

“God’s intentions in the death of Christ are complex, not simple; multiple, not single:

1. Christ died for the purpose of securing the sure and certain salvation of his own, his elect.

2. Christ died for the purpose of paying the penalty for the sin of all people, making it possible for all who believe to be saved.

3. Christ died for the purpose of securing the bone fide offer of salvation to all people everywhere.

4. Christ died for the purpose of providing an additional basis for condemnation for those who hear and reject the gospel that has been genuinely offered to them.

5. Christ died for the purpose of reconciling all things to the Father.”

15 thoughts on “Limited Atonement: An ex- “high/per Calvinist’s” journey to date.

  1. Good stuff, Reid. You are a gifted writer 🙂 I know that you hold to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience in justification, but can you clarify for me your understanding of the connection between “forgiveness” and “righteousness” in the light of the above?

  2. Great question Phil – thanks. If all we received from Christ was a means to settle the score with God, we would be in a better place than now, but not where God has intended us to be all along. I do address this a bit in the audio.

    Say we were forgiven of our sin against god in Adam, and of our own sins that we have already committed. That’s fine, we could be upright, but even the non-elect were upright once. Election moves us beyond mere uprightness, and brings us into sonship – adoption. Adoption bringing us all of the rights and privileges of The Son. We rule and reign WITH Him on His throne (though not fully realized or actualized in this life). But in His imputed righteousness, we are given not life – but eternal life. Adam had life, but a life that could be lost. The Redeemed in Christ are given a life which can never be lost. A righteousness beyond our own, and one which allows for a higher and greater status than that of Adam and the unfallen non-elect (of which there are none given the Fall).

    To be “righteous” is to be pronounced not guilty, not just “case dismissed.” Justified – tired on the charges and declared as having fulfilled all required of us as well as having not transgressed. Transgression comes in two forms – omission and commission. Adam failed to satiate himself completely on what God had provided and commanded him to do, and then went on and ate what was forbidden as well. Christ must restore us on both counts. Having obeyed fully, as Adam disobeyed, we get the full benefit of His righteousness imputed to us, and not merely have the slate wiped clean. We become co-heirs.

    Does that help at all? Or did I miss your point?

  3. Not quite sure of my point…I tend to feel that those two things of forgiveness and righteousness seem a bit separate in (law-based)merit theology. I think we need a perfect righteousness,but union with Christ who is eternal life means we have him who is ontological righteousness,and we are restored to faith-dependence on God’s grace activity so that we reflect his own glory-while raised to higher intimacy than pre-fall Adam, with God in Christ in us. Sorry the shortness…mobile phone has limited field

  4. I would very much like to hear your talks Reid,but the download files are huge. Can they come any smaller?

  5. I believe the net effect was very positive. Recovering the sense of God’s large-heartedness instinctively rejoices the soul.

  6. Hey Reid,

    I listened to the MP3s. Starting with Adam was a good thing to present. It was Van Til who first made me aware that in Adam, there is no elective/non-elective differentiation. He was speaking of the lapsarian order and why infra was more right and supra more wrong. But his insight was good. You’ve taken the same thing and brought it down into the concrete even more so. So here the starting point is God’s revelation to mankind in Adam.

    The Reformed, the clasic and early guys, saw the work of Christ as being the universal counter-point to Adam. Thus Christ’s mission is to the human race as a whole. You have some complex Federalist schemas operating for some here, and sometimes they are competing with each other.

    Owen and those in his trajectory of the Reformed camp, see the counter-point of the work of Christ in the Covenant of Redemption. As Durham says, the Covenant of Redemption delimits the scope of the work of Christ accordingly. This starting point is attractive because it mirrors the Federalist categories, as the Mosaic Covenant is an image of the particularist covenantal structures of the Covenant of Redemption. In this view, as the Mosaic Covenant is a picture of the Covenant of Redemption as to its particularism, it skips over the Adamic and Noahic.

    So the starting point for this model is not revelation, but the lapsarian decrees as they are married to Federalism. Make sense?

    This is also what makes it interesting that Calvin, Bullinger, Zwingli speak of the Covenant of Grace being made now with all humanity. Election belongs to the secret will. Calvin, Bullinger, Musculus, Gualther, et al, start with God’s revelation to mankind, as the revealed starting point.

    (By competing, I mean, we have some who claim that the Mosaic Covenant was a republishing of the Covenant of Works with Adam (Eg., Polanus). But as I understand it, more reflective Federalism saw the Covenant of Moses as part of the Covenant of Grace, and not a republication of the Covenant of Works. But all that aside… 🙂

    But Reid, you didn’t give a plug for the C&C blog. I cant forgive you for that. 🙂

    Take care,

  7. Thanks David, I truly appreciate the comments and ideas. You are always a great help in that regard. And yes, I do believe if we are going to get to the bottom of these discussions, starting with God’s revelation to mankind in Adam is essential. Just like Genesis 1:1 is the first and most important hermeneutic for all of Scripture, so these opening revelations inform everything which is to come behind.

    I will continue to look at the competing schemes. Your observations re: Owen and the trajectory there are right on. This is indeed my contention. We are describing everything out of a context that is secondary to the initial revelations. We have to end up in the wrong place.

    AH! My brain! I forgot to mention the blog! So I just now went back and included and mention and link at the beginning of this post.

    Good to hear from you my friend.

  8. Hey Reid,

    Thanks for the link. It sounded like the group you were with were pretty receptive and friendly. Thats always good to see.


  9. Thanks David. Most would have been self-confessed solid 5-pointers. So to have met with a gentle reception was more than I could have hoped for. This served too as a practice run for the Bunyan conference which I will be doing in September. There, I will have 100 or so solid 5-pointers to dialog with on this specific topic.

  10. Hey Reid,

    What is the purpose in dying for those whom He knows will not accept Him? In theory you can say it is sufficient for all, but in reality if you say “He died once and not in many ways for different groups” how then can God have different “intentions” in it? Isn’t that contradictory? Doesn’t God accomplish all that He intends? Wasn’t the blood of the covenant spilled in order to redeem and to give new hearts to those whom for which He died? I also am having a hard time with God putting his wrath on Christ for the sins of Mr. X and then Mr. X goes to hell and is punished for sins (including unbelief) that have been suffered for already. I see a huge justice problem with that. Could you help me out?

  11. RAF: First off, thanks for stopping by Ron. I appreciate it. And, I think you raise some very important issues. Let me see if I can help some.

    1. You ask: “What is the purpose in dying for those whom He knows will not accept Him?”

    RAF: There are several things to be examined here. a. I don’t know that the Bible reveals it. The question is not so much can I answer why, as much as it is – does the Bible teach it? There are many things in Scripture we are not given a complete answer “why?” to. We could ask Job – eh? Why does it rain on the sea when there are no crops to be grown? Why do most animals have 4 legs instead of two like humans? Why 2 eyes and not four? I’m using some deliberately absurd questions to display the issue. Let’s try some closer to home? Why does God create the better part of mankind only to end in Hell? Why are their so many millions who are born in abject poverty, never exposed to the Gospel, live short, unfruitful, painful lives and perish into a Christ-less eternity? Let’s get closer to home. Why preach the Gospel to those who will never receive it? Not from our end – from God’s. Why does God command us to preach it to every living creature when He has no intention of saving the greater number who hear it?Why did God allow evil? To all of these, I will simply have to answer I do not know. I do not know why Christ died for those He knows will not accept Him, nor whom He will not sovereignly move upon to bring them to faith. I simply believe it is the teaching of Scripture that He did so.

    All I am saying on this point is that simply because I cannot give an explicit answer to your question – does not negate the Biblical assertions that it is so. Its inexplicability is not an argument for its untruthfulness, any more than my inability to explain any of the miracles of Scripture or the nature of the Trinity means they cannot be so.

    This truly is where the tension of the mystery surrounding Jesus’ atoning and substitutionary death belongs. You have put your finger on a central point.

    2. Ron: “In theory you can say it is sufficient for all, but in reality if you say “He died once and not in many ways for different groups” how then can God have different “intentions” in it? Isn’t that contradictory? Doesn’t God accomplish all that He intends?


    a. If we can only say this in theory – then we in essence have no basis to call men to believe on Jesus Christ. For He may, or may not have died for them. Our offer is disingenuous. We cannot offer men a theoretical salvation. We offer a genuine salvation for all who believe, knowing that an atonement has been made, one which the Father is fully satisfied with – one He will without question honor if we come by virtue of it. In fact, there is no Scripture language whatever to intimate His dying in different ways. At least none I’m aware of. If you can point me to it I will be more than glad to reconsider in light of it. I must! But in its absence, I must go with the language we have. He speaks of dying for all, and He speaks of dying specifically for His own. But He never speaks of dying different ways. One death for all.

    b. Different intentions lies in the reality of God’s applying the death as He sees fit. No less a 5-point stalwart than R. L. Dabney writes:

    There is no safer clue for the student through this perplexed subject, than to take this proposition; which, to every Calvinist, is nearly as indisputable as a truism; Christ’s design in His vicarious work was to effectuate exactly what it does effectuate, and all that it effectuates, in its subsequent proclamation. This is but saying that Christ’s purpose is unchangeable and omnipotent. Now, what does it actually effectuate? ‘We know only in part;’ but so much is certain:

    1. The purchase of the full and assured redemption of all the elect, or of all believers.
    2. A reprieve of doom for every sinner of Adam’s race who does not die at his birth. (For these we believe it has purchased heaven). And this reprieve gains for all, many substantial, though temporal benefits, such as unbelievers, of all men, will be the last to account no benefits. Among these are postponement of death and perdition, secular well-being, and the bounties of life.
    3. A manifestation of God’s mercy to many of the non-elect, to all those, namely, who live under the Gospel, in sincere offers of a salvation on terms of faith. And a sincere offer is a real and not a delusive benefaction; because it is only the recipient’s contumacy which disappoints it.
    4. A justly enhanced condemnation of those who reject the Gospel, and thereby a clearer display of God’s righteousness and reasonableness in condemning, to all the worlds.
    5. A disclosure of the infinite tenderness and glory of God’s compassion, with purity, truth and justice, to all rational creatures.

    That God designs to accomplish more than one thing by means of the atonement shouldn’t be astonishing to us in any way. When He made apples, He most certainly intended that they be attractive to the eye; intended them to be pleasing to the taste; intended them to be easily held; intended them to be easily eaten; and intended them to be nourishing and refreshing – all these intents at the very least, and for but a simple fruit! That God intends the atonement to be extended to all men, and sincerely desires all men to be saved by it, and yet also intends with absolute certainty to save the elect by it is not in the least contradictory. It merely shows that our own capacity to desire even seemingly contradictory things at one and the same time is part and parcel of being made in His image.

    c. Ron: “Doesn’t God accomplish all that He intends?”

    RAF: Yes. But use your own qualification here – ALL that He intends. He often intends more than one end in one and the same thing. Jesus was sent to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. One and the same thing to accomplish several ends. Jesus said He came to do the will of the Father. That He came to seek and to save the lost. That He came to destroy the works of the Devil. That He came to serve and not to be served. If we can posit only one single intent in all this, we are forced to deny the totality of these various statements. He cam to do them all – and more.

    But to speak to the deeper part of your question – let me go back to the Law. The Law reads: “You shall not commit adultery.” We can ask then, is it God’s intent that no one commit adultery? Don’t we have His intent written in stone by His own hand? We do! Now, does God all all He intends? But do men still commit adultery? And in His sovereignty doesn’t He allow some to carry out of the very thing He states absolutely He does not intend we do? But if nothing comes to pass other than what He intends, what are we to do? We must allow for Him to intend various things at once. the options are to leave Him powerless, self-contradicted, frustrated or mad. None of which are or can be true. In His sovereign wisdom He intends to let some commit adultery, even though it is opposite to His expressed intent. I fear our one-dimensional answers to these things have failed to let us interact with the data as fully as we ought.

    Ron: “Wasn’t the blood of the covenant spilled in order to redeem and to give new hearts to those whom for which He died?

    RAF: Certainly. But what I am advocating is that the Scripture says it does more than that alone. Arminians would say He died to make all men salvable. I would say that is an error. His died to make all sin forgivable is a better statement I believe. That it is not taken advantage of by all is the tragedy.

    Ron: I also am having a hard time with God putting his wrath on Christ for the sins of Mr. X and then Mr. X goes to hell and is punished for sins (including unbelief) that have been suffered for already.  I see a huge justice problem with that. Could you help me out?

    RAF: There are several things here too.

    a. Then you must have an equally difficult time with God redeeming all of Israel out of Egypt, only to have the better part of them die in unbelief. Or with Jesus taking the place of Barabbas physically for his death, and yet Barabbas (as far as we know) receiving no spiritual benefit from it. Did everyone Jesus healed end up a believer? Did all 5000 He fed with the multiplied loaves and fishes truly follow Him? Was Judas commissioned to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons, and was he a genuine apostle called by Christ, and yet die in his sins? There are many such difficulties in this regard. But it ought not to be a stretch for us to hold that the Father “put forth” – extended to us – Jesus Christ as the propitiation for sins He has received, and which we must receive by faith (Rom. 3:25) – and that if we do not believe, we cannot have the saving advantage of. Remember, we are justified by faith, not by His death in the abstract. No one is justified, until they believe. (Eph. 2:8) The Reformers were so emphatic on this point, since Romanism taught an automatic kind of reconciliation to God through the sacrament of baptism. Faith is the “instrumental” cause of salvation they taught – along with Scripture. No faith, no salvation. The provision of His atoning work is laid up for us until we believe. We are not saved prior to it.

    b. The second thing we need to address is the idea of “double jeopardy”. How can I pay for my sins if Jesus paid for them? To which I answer two things.

    1. It would only be double jeopardy if I paid twice for my own sins – not if a remedy was made available, but I in rebellious unbelief refused to avail myself of it. That the lamb was slain on the day of atonement for all the Jews, had no impact if a Jew then refused to participate in the other sacrifices he was commanded to bring. Provision was made for his acceptance, but he still had to come. This is why we read in 2 Cor. 5;18-20 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself – but we still have to be reconciled!

    2. Don’t forget that the ransom & redemption language carries with the idea that Christ purchases men, that they might be His slaves – not to make them free agents. Hence Peter’s language when he notes that there are false teachers who deny “the Master who bought them.” (2 pet. 2:9) Jesus Himself tells the parable of the Nobleman (Luke 19) who goes into a far country to receive a kingdom, but those whom are to be under his rule send a delegation saying we will not have this man to reign over us. When he returns, he will judge them. How? Because they are His subjects. He received them. He has Lordship over them. He owns them. And they refuse Him.

    3. I would advance a 3rd concept here. When one buys a slave, the slave is not free, but has changed owners. In effect, the Master buys the debt the slave owes that put him in slavery in the first place. When Jesus says that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (John 5:22) I believe we can make a case that Jesus paid the Father what mankind owes (death) but now, we must reckon with the Son. If we will take Him as Lord by faith, the debt is forgiven. If not, He will still carry out the final execution Himself.

    Now I don’t know how much of that was truly helpful Ron – I can only say it is how I have thought through some of this to date.

  12. Ron – as a quick addition:

    Berkhof on the Will of God for Salvation of All Men

    “b. It is a bona fide calling. The external calling is a calling in good faith, a calling that is seriously meant. It is not an invitation coupled with the hope that it will not be accepted. When God calls the sinner to accept Christ by faith, He earnestly desires this; and when He promises those who repent and believe eternal life, His promise is dependable. This follows from the very nature, from the veracity, of God. It is blasphemous to think that God would be guilty of equivocation and deception, that He would say one thing and mean another, that He would earnestly plead with the sinner to repent and believe unto salvation, and at the same time not desire it in any sense of the word. The bona fide character of the external call is proved by the following passages of Scripture: Num. 23:19; Ps. 81:13-16; Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18-20; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Matt. 21:37; II Tim. 2:13. The Canons of Dort also assert it explicitly in III and IV, 8.”

    Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 462.

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