Renowned Commentator Albert Barnes on the Extent of the Atonement

, posted by SEA

Albert Barnes (1798-1870), who was a graduate of Princeton Seminary and a long-time Presbyterian pastor (in New Jersey and then Philadelphia), is well known for his Notes: Explanatory and Practical, which covers the entire New Testament and portions of the Old Testament. Despite being from a Calvinist denomination, he was a proponent of unlimited atonement, which only underscores how obviously scriptural the doctrine is–even many Calvinists affirm it.

Here are some comments from Barnes in favor of unlimited atonement:

On 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For the love of Christ constraineth us
because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and
that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto
themselves but unto him which died for them and rose again.”–

“The phrase ‘for all’ (huper panton) obviously means for all
mankind; for every man. This is an exceedingly important expression in
regard to the extent of the atonement which the Lord Jesus made; and while
it proves that his death was vicarious, that is, in the place of others,
and for their sakes, it demonstrates also that the atonement was general,
and had, in itself considered, no limitation, and no particular reference
to any class or condition of men, and no particular applicability to one
class more than to another. There was nothing in the nature of the
atonement that limited it to any one class or condition; there was nothing
in the design that made it, in itself, any more applicable to one portion
of mankind than to another. And whatever be true in regard to the fact as
to its actual applicability, or in regard to the purpose of God to apply
it, it is demonstrated by this passage that his death had an original
applicability to all, and that the merits of that death were sufficient to
save all.

The argument in favor of the general atonement, from this passage,
consists in the following points: 1. That Paul assumes this as a matter
that was well known, indisputable, and universally admitted, that Christ
died for all. He did not deem it necessary to enter into the argument to
prove it, nor even to state it formally. It was so well known, and so
universally admitted, that he made it a first-principle–an elementary
position–a maxim on which to base another important doctrine–to wit, that
all were dead. It was a point which he assumed that no one would call in
question; a doctrine which might be laid down as the basis of an
argument–like one of the first principles or maxims in science.

2. It is the plain and obvious meaning of the expression–the sense which
strikes all men, unless they have some theory to support to the contrary;
and it requires all the ingenuity which men can ever command to make it
appear even plausible that this is consistent with the doctrine of a
limited atonement–much more to make it out that it does not mean all. If
a man is told that all the human family must die, the obvious
interpretation is, that it applies to every individual. If told that all
the passengers on board a steamboat were drowned, the obvious
interpretation is, that every individual was meant. If told that a ship
was wrecked, and that all the crew perished, the obvious interpretation
would be that none escaped. If told that all the inmates of an hospital
were sick, it would be understood that there was not an individual that was
not sick. Such is the view which would be taken by nine hundred and
ninety-nine persons out of a thousand, if told that Christ died for all;
nor could they conceive how this could be consistent with the statement
that he died only for the elect, and that the elect was only a small part
of the human family.

3. This interpretation is in accordance with all the explicit declarations
on the design of the death of the Redeemer. Hebrews 2:9, ‘That he, by
the grace of God, should taste death for every man.’ Compare John 3:16,
‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’
I Timothy 2:6, ‘Who gave himself a ransom for all.’ See Matthew
20:28, ‘The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many.’ I
John 2:2, ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours
only, but for the sins of the whole world.’

4. The fact also, that on the ground of the atonement made by the Redeemer
salvation is offered unto all men by God, is a proof that he died for all.
The apostles were directed to go ‘into all the world, and preach the
gospel to every creature,’ with the assurance that ‘he that believeth
and is baptized shall be saved,’ Mark 16:15, 16; and everywhere in the
Bible the most full and free offers of salvation are made to all mankind.
Compare Isaiah 55:1; John 7:37; Revelation 22:17. These offers are made on
the ground that the Lord Jesus died for men, John 3:16. They are offers of
salvation through the gospel, of the pardon of sin, and of eternal life to
be made ‘to every creature.’ But if Christ died only for a part; if
there is a large portion of the human family for whom he died in no sense
whatever; if there is no provision of any kind made for them, then God must
know this, and then the offers cannot be made with sincerity, and God is
tantalizing them with offers of that which does not exist, and which he
knows does not exist.

It is no use here to say that the preacher does not know who the elect
are, and that he is obliged to make the offer to all in order that the
elect may be reached. For it is not the preacher only who offers the
gospel. It is God who does it, and he knows who the elect are, and yet he
offers salvation to all. And if there is no salvation provided for all,
and no possibility that all to who the offer comes should be saved, then
God is insincere; and there is no way possible of vindicating his

5. If this interpretation is not correct, and if Christ did not die for
all, then the argument of Paul here is a non sequitur, and is worthless.
The demonstration that all are dead, according to him, is that Christ died
for all. But suppose that he meant, or that he knew, that Christ died only
for a part–for the elect–then how would the argument stand, and what
would be its force? ‘Christ died only for a portion of the human race,
therefore ALL are sinners. Medicine is provided only for a part of
mankind, therefore all are sick. Pardon is offered to part only, therefore
all are guilty.’ But Paul never reasoned in this way. He believed that
Christ died for all mankind, and on the ground of that he inferred at once
that all needed such an atonement; that all were sinners, and that all were
exposed to the wrath of God. And the argument is in this way, and in this
way only, sound. . . .

It is observable that Paul makes a distinction here between those for whom
Christ died and those who actually ‘live;’ thus demonstrating that
there may be many for whom he died who do not live to God, or who are not
savingly benefited by his death. The atonement was for all, but only a
part are actually made alive to God. Multitudes reject it; but the fact he
died for all, that he tasted death for every man, that he not only died for
the elect but for all others, that his benevolence was so great as to
embrace the whole human family in the design of his death, is a reason why
they who are actually made alive to God should consecrate themselves
entirely to his service. The fact that he died for all evinced such
unbounded and infinite benevolence, that it should induce us who are
actually benefited by his death, and who have any just views of it, to
devote all that we have to his service.”

Barnes Notes on the New Testament
Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978 reprint
pp. 851, 852
All italics removed; all capitals in original.

On I John 2:2, “And he is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours
only but also for the sins of the whole world.”–

“But also for the sins of the whole world. The phrase ‘the sins of’
is not in the original, but is not improperly supplied, for the connection
demands it. This is one of the expressions occurring in the New Testament
which demonstrate that the atonement was made for all men, and which cannot
be reconciled with any other opinion. If he had died only for a part of
the race, this language could not have been used. The phrase, ‘the whole
world,’ is one which naturally embraces all men; is such as would be used
if it be supposed that the apostle meant to teach that Christ died for all
men; and is such as cannot be explained on any other supposition. If he
died only for the elect, it is not true that he is the ‘propitiation for
the sins of the whole world’ in any proper sense, nor would it be
possible then to assign a sense in which it could be true.”

Ibid., p. 1471
All italics removed.