Taken from https://www.galaxie.com/article/cenq10-4-03
This article is not written by an Arminian, but from a “moderate Calvinist” perspective. We include it because it argues for unlimited atonement, a doctrine that is so obviously biblical that many who consider themselves Calvinists embrace it.
Did Christ Die For All?
by Samual Telloyan
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The question considered in this study of the Bible is, “For whom did Christ die?” Some answer, “For all.” Others answer, “Only for the elect.” What sayeth the Scriptures?
Those known as Arminians hold that Christ’s death was for all men alike, and that it secured for everyone a measure of common grace whereby all are able to believe if they will. This Arminian view is not the subject of this investigation; only the differences among Calvinists are here being examined.
Those who consider that Christ died only for the elect can for convenience be referred to as limited redemptionists. By limited redemption or limited atonement, according to Thomas Simmons, is meant “that Christ died for the elect and for the elect only; that the value and design or application, the sufficiency and efficiency of it are the same; that Christ in no sense whatsoever died for any that shall perish in hell.”
Berkhof has stated it precisely: “Did God in sending His Son into the world to be the Savior of sinners, and did Christ by taking upon Himself the work of redemption, intend to save all men, that is, all the individuals of the human race; or did they intend to save only the elect?”
Those who feel that this position is not true to Scripture, the unlimited redemptionists, say that Christ Jesus died for all, but only those who trust Him receive eternal life. Chafer says of this group, which he calls moderate Calvinists: “Men of this group believe that Christ died actually and fully for all men of this age alike, that God has ordained that the gospel shall be preached to all for whom Christ died, and that through the proclamation of the gospel He will exercise His sovereign power in saving His elect. This group believe in the absolute depravity of man and his total inability to believe apart from the enabling power of the Spirit, and that the death of Christ is a sufficient ground for any and every man to be saved, should the Spirit of God choose to draw him. They contend that the death of Christ; of itself saves no man, either actually or potentially, but that it does render all men savable; that salvation is wrought of God alone, and at the time the individual believes.”
Now, the task is to examine the arguments for and against the limited and unlimited atonement.
The Limited Atonement
Arguments for Limited Atonement : Some who have held to limited atonement in the past were Augustine, Wycliffe, Luther, Spurgeon, Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards.
The first argument for the limited redemption rests on the tenet of election. Berkhof states, “God from all eternity decreed to save a certain definite number of the fallen human race, and at the same time determined the means by which He would effectuate their salvation. It is but reasonable to suppose that He adapted the means precisely to the end which he had in view. Since the election was clearly personal in decreeing the salvation of certain persons who stood out clearly in the mind of God, we can only suppose that He designed the necessary means also for those and for no other persons and made them effective for the end in view.”
Charles Hodge says basically the same thing: “If God from eternity determined to save one portion of the human race and not another, it seems to be a contradiction to say that the plan of salvation had equal reference to both portions; that the Father sent His Son to die in the same sense for the elect and the nonelect. The doctrine of election and the extent of the atonement are inseparably united. If you hold to one, you must hold to the other; if you deny one, then you must deny the other.”
A second argument for limited atonement, quite similar to the first, is from the covenant of redemption. In this covenant a relation supposedly was established between the Father and the Son and those for whom Christ would lay down His life. Since the covenant of redemption did not include all, it follows that Christ did not die for all. Hodge stated, “The nature of the covenant, therefore, determines the object of His death.”
A third argument for the limited atonement is the argument from the special love of God. It is stated that God had a peculiar love to His people, to His church, to the elect, and that this love prompted Him to send Christ. This love is compared in Scripture to the love of a husband for his wife, which is exclusive. To this peculiar and infinite love, the gift of Christ is uniformly referred (I John 4:10, 3:16; Rom. 5:8; John 15:13; Rom. 8:35-39; 5:1-11).
A fourth argument for the limited atonement is found in the Old Testament priesthood. The High Priest interceded for all those for whom he offered sacrifice. He bore upon his breast the name of the twelve tribes. He represented them, and no others, in drawing near to God. What was true of the Old Testament Aaronic priesthood is true of Christ, for they were types of Christ. Christ therefore intercedes for all for whom He offered Himself as a sacrifice. He cannot be said to intercede for those who do not actually receive the benefits of his salvation. “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me” (John 17:9).
A fifth argument for the limited atonement is that if Christ really satisfied the demands of the law for all men, if He made atonement for all, meeting all their legal requirements, it would seem that the law would have no further claim on them as a condition of life, and could not very well exact another satisfaction of them by eternal punishment.
A sixth proof for the limited atonement arises from the absurdities involved in the unlimited position Limited redemptionists would have unlimited redemptionists say that God’s positive will, His divine purpose, and not merely His revealed will can be frustrated by man. According to this unlimited position, it is even possible that not a single sinner could be saved. One would even have to believe that Christ laid down His life for the salvation of those who have already died in their sins and were consigned to outer darkness.
Shedd stated: “It is not rational to suppose that God the Father merely determined that God the Son should die for the sin of the world, leaving it wholly, or in part, to the sinful world to determine all the result of this stupendous transaction; leaving it wholly, or in part, to the sinful world to decide how many or how few this death should actually save. Neither is it rational to suppose that the Son of God would lay down His life upon such a peradventure; for it might be that not a single human soul would trust in His sacrifice, and in this case He would have died in vain.”
A final argument, the one carrying the most weight, is that various verses of Scripture appear to teach a limited atonement. These Scriptures are the following with their teaching importance stressed.
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken” (Isa. 53: 8) . “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. As my Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 15). “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 10:28 [sic; correct reference: 20:28]). “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9: 98 [sic; correct reference: 9:28]). “Therefore I will 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: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down- his life for his friends” (John 15:13) . “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (John 17: 9) .
These seven points are the basic arguments which the limited redemptionists give for holding to a limited redemption in Scripture. The question now needs to be asked whether these arguments are irrefutable. Are these Scriptures convincing beyond a shadow of a doubt. or is there room to question the use of these verses?
Refutation of the Above Arguments : Concerning the first argument that the doctrine of the election limits the atonement only to the elect, it can be stated that this is not a Scriptural argument but rather an argument from reason. Berkhof in presenting this view of election and limited atonement used the words, “It is reasonable to suppose” and “we can only suppose.” No chapter or verse of Scripture is given, just a rational argument. Doctrines should not be founded upon reason but upon Scripture.
Concerning the second argument for the limited atonement, namely that of the covenant of redemption, it may be objected that this is another argument from reason and not from Scripture. Where is the chapter and verse which tells of a pre-historic covenant between the Father and Son for the salvation of the elect?
Concerning the third argument, that the love of God was peculiar to His people, His church, His elect and that this love prompted Him to send Christ, it may be stated that this is all very true and not to be denied; but it does not show that Christ did not also love the harlots, drunkards, blasphemers and all Christ-rejectors. Christ has a special love for His people, His church, His elect because these have responded to His love and received Him as their personal Savior.
The fourth argument concerning the Old Testament High Priest may be refuted by noting that all of those for whom the High Priest interceded were not saved. Salvation was an individual affair and was provided for by individual obedience to God in offering the proper sacrifices.
The fifth argument has been refuted by Chafer: “It is one of the points most depended upon by the limited redemptionists to claim that redemption, if wrought at all, necessitates the salvation of those thus favored….men are not severally saved by the act of Christ in dying, but rather they are saved by the divine application of that value when they believe. The blood of the passover lamb became efficacious only when applied to the door post.”
In regard to the sixth argument about the absurdities in the unlimited position allowing man to frustrate the plan of God and perhaps for none to be saved, it may be said that this is an argument based upon reason and not upon Scripture.
Concerning the limited redemptionists’ strongest argument, that of the Scriptures, where it speaks of Christ dying for His sheep, His church, His people, for many, it may be stated that Scripture does not always include all the truth involved in the theme presented at a given place. These verses state that Christ died for a certain group, but they do not state that He died for them exclusive of all others. Just the statement that Christ died for the elect does not prove the point of the limited redemptionists. According to this logic of the limited redemptionists John 11:51 and Isaiah 53:8 teach that Christ died only for Israel, and Galatians 2:20 would prove that Christ died only for the Apostle Paul, for Paul declares, “who loved me, and gave himself for me.” As well, one might say that Christ restricted His prayers to Peter, for Luke 22:32 says, “I have prayed for thee.”
These passages present not the slightest difficulty. The unlimited redemptionist interprets these great passages precisely as does his opponent. He believes in the sovereign election of God and the heavenly purpose to gather out a redeemed people for His name. He believes that these verses identify a part of the total number for whom Christ died.
The Unlimited Atonement
Because one’s view of a doctrine must come from the Scriptures, it will be necessary in this section to present only the Scriptures which seem to present unlimited atonement.
Isaiah 53:6. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Unquestionably the first “all” in this verse is an unqualified “all.” All have gone astray, elect and non-elect, Israel and Gentile. All have turned to their own way and all are lost in sin.
There is another important “all” in this verse, the last word of the verse. The verse is not stating that all will be saved, but rather that all are lost and that Christ has paid the penalty for every sinner, elect and non-elect alike. Jenkyn stated, “No passage of Scripture can be adduced which limits the atonement to the sins of the elect. Whenever the death of Christ is mentioned in connection with sin, it is always with sin universally and as a whole.”
1 John 2:1, 2. Beyond question the Apostle John was writing to Christians when he stated, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not, And if any man sin, 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 the sins of the whole world.”
The elect people of God are encouraged not to sin, but if they would sin Jesus Christ is an advocate at God’s right hand to plead His blood in their behalf. The apostle continues by stating that the blood of Christ was not only shed for the elect but for the sins of the whole world. This strongly asserts not unlimited salvation, but unlimited atonement.
This Scripture as read from the view of the limited atonement advocates would be ridiculous. It would be something to this effect: “He is the propitiation for our (the elect) sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of those who comprise the world of elect people.”
In fact, even Calvin in his later days wrote in regard to I John 2:2 as follows: “Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and in the goodness of God is offered unto all men without distinction, His blood being shed not for a part of the world only, but for the whole human race; for although in the world nothing is found worthy of the favor of God, yet He holds out the propitiation to the whole world, since without exception He summons all to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than the door unto hope.”
2 Peter 2:1. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
The false prophets in this verse are unsaved, for they are headed for destruction. Peter under the Holy Spirit says that even though they are unsaved Christ died for them. Lenski stated, “Here we have an adequate answer to Calvin’s limited atonement: The Sovereign, Christ, bought with His blood not only the elect but also those who go to perdition.”
Jenkyn-stated: “So the atonement of Christ is adapted, and therefore designed, to save man from sin, though the event in numerous instances may be otherwise. Some will not come unto Him that they might have life; they will not have Him to rule over them; they neglect their great salvation; they tread under foot the blood wherewith they were atoned, and they deny and reject the Lord that bought them.”
Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come, And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” The word “whosoever” is used at least 110 times in the New Testament and always with the unrestricted meaning.
I Timothy 4:10. “For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe.” This verse seems to be quite clear in teaching that in its sufficiency the atonement of Christ is universal; that is, provision is made for all mankind; not one is excluded. But in its efficiency the atonement is limited; that is, actual provision is made only for those who accept God’s offer of salvation through Christ Both aspects, the atonement for all, the salvation of the elect, are present in I Timothy 4:10.
To read this verse from the standpoint of the limited atonement would make it appear ridiculous. The effect would be: “For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God who is the Savior of the elect, specially of those that be elect.”
Robert G. Farley gives an illustration which can be applied here: “The prospective mother prepares a complete and beautiful outfit for her expected child. But the child is still-born. Yet the outfit was prepared just the same as if it had lived. And Christ’s work is completed as much for one man as for another, as much for the unbeliever as for the believer.”
In conclusion it must be said concerning the view of the limited atonement that many of the arguments for it are arguments from reason rather than from the Scripture. Rationally considered, the view sounds plausible; however, doctrine is not based on reason but upon Scripture.
The verses cited by the limited atonement advocates are not exclusive. The verses speak of salvation for the elect, but these verses are only a part of the whole picture. Some of the limited verses do not even deal with the atonement (such as John 17:9). In order to hold to the limited view, one has to re-interpret the plain meaning of Scripture.
Concerning the unlimited view of the atonement, upon close examination of the proof texts, this view is the plain teaching of Scripture. The unlimited atonement is consistent with all the other theology of the Bible. The unlimited view is in perfect harmony with the grace and justice of God. The infinite sacrifice of Christ is infinite in value, and therefore, has no limit. The unlimited view of the atonement is a much greater incentive to soul winning than the limited view.