Limited Atonement

God, then, chose some sinners to save. This did not make them saved at that time. It only guaranteed that they certainly would be saved in the end. Two more things needed to be done: prepare the means for their salvation and apply it to them. First, we read in Scripture that God foreordained that Jesus Christ would become a man and would die on the Cross as the means of salvation (Acts 2:23; 4:28). Christ died as a substitute for others (1 Cor. 15:3; Rom.5:8). He suffered the infinite wrath of God for sin, and satisfied that wrath. This is called propitiation (1 John 2:2, 4:10). Because Jesus was a perfect man and God in the flesh, His sacrifice had infinite value. He did not pay an exact equivalent for our sins; He paid a super-abundant payment infinitely above what we owed. All that He did would have been necessary had only one sinner been chosen, but He would not have had to do any more had all sinners been chosen.

Historic Calvinists teach that there are two aspects of this one atonement. The first is that there is a sense in which Christ died for all men everywhere (John 1:29, 3:16, 4:42, 6:33, 51; 2 Cor. 5:14, 19; I Tim. 2:4-6; John 2:2; 2 Pet 2:1). By His death on the Cross, He removed all legal barriers in case any man believes. His death for all men also purchased the common bounties of life for all men. It also secured a delay of judgment for them, as it were, though not a permanent one. All will one day be judged, but the fact that all men are not already in Hell is due to the atonement of Christ. Moreover, on the basis of this universal aspect of the atonement, salvation is offered freely to all men: “Come and dine, for all is ready!” (cf. Matt. 22:2-14; Luke 14:16-24). Also, Christ died for all men in this sense in order to be Lord of all men, whether alive or dead, elect or non-elect (Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:10-11).

Most Evangelicals will agree with this analysis so far, but Calvinist go yet further. We teach that the death of Christ is sufficient for all men, but is efficient only for the elect. There is a sense in which Christ died for all, but there is a sense in which He died only for the elect. He died for all, but especially for the elect (1 Tim. 4:10). He purchased some blessings for all men, but all blessings for some men. Since the elect are scattered throughout the world and mingled together with the non-elect, Christ purchased the whole world with the special intent of owning the elect (cf. Matt. 13:44). This special aspect of the atonement is what is called Limited Atonement. Some call it Particular Redemption.

Eph. 5:25 says, “Christ also loved the Church [the elect] and gave Himself up for her.” A man loves all other persons, but has a special love for his wife and will do some things for her that he will not do for all other persons. The same is true with Christ. He has a general love for all men and did something for all men at the Cross because they were His creatures. But He has a special love for His bride and did something special for her at the Cross. He died for her in such a way as to guarantee that she would be saved, made perfectly holy and ready for Heaven (vs.26).

There are other verses that indicates this special intent of the atonement. John 10:15, 17 and 18 say that Christ the Good Shepherd died for “the sheep”. Lest somebody think that this could include all men everywhere, Christ goes on to say that some people are not His sheep (vs. 26) Hence there is a sense in which He died for the sheep (the elect) and not for the goats and wolves (the non-elect). Later in John 15:13-14, Christ said that He would lay down His life for His “friends.” But not all men are His friends. Isaiah 53:8 prophesied that Christ would die for God’s “people”, but not all men are God’s people-only the elect. Acts 20:28 says that Christ purchased “the Church” with His blood, but not all men are the Church. Further, Rom. 8:32 says that if God gave Christ to die for us, then He will surely give all other things. Since He does not give all these things of salvation to all men, then it follows that Christ was not given for them at the Cross in this special way. Christ died so as to make possible the salvation of all men, but He died to make definite the salvation of the elect alone. It was designed for the elect.

Again, there are many objections to this truth, but they can all be answered by pointing out that no man deserved for Christ to die for him. Actually, there is no dispute that Christ did not die for Satan or the demons; the atonement is clearly limited there. But the non-elect are in the same situation as Satan-none will be saved because none were elected. The thing to keep in mind is that the atonement was designed for the elect.

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