“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1st Corinthians 15:1-4)
At the heart of the Gospel, the Good News, is the central teaching that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity made flesh (John 1:1-3,14; John 8:58; 1st Tim. 3:16), died for sinners. He, being perfectly just and without sin before God in His humanity, suffered in a short space of time the judicial equivalent of the eternal punishment* which a great number of sinners deserved in order that the wrath of God would be turned away from those same sinners and that they could be perfectly forgiven without God being in any way unjust (e.g. treating sin lightly, not judging sin, making exceptions for certain persons). In the Old Testament the laying of hands upon the lamb prior to its sacrifice symbolized the transfer of guilt of the sinner to the innocent lamb. In the New Testament the sins of the sinners Christ died for were transferred by God to Christ. Their guilt was imputed (put on the account of) to Christ while the perfect righteousness of Christ was imputed to those same sinners in a divine judicial act. Christ was treated as a sinner at Calvary though He was personally without sin. (See my “Three Great Imputations of the Bible” blog post).
* immeasurable physical and mental/psychological torment for an eternity without pause or relief which is just punishment for having offended through sin the Infinite God of glory who requires perfect obedience from His creatures
Now notice I wrote “a great number of sinners”. I did not write “ALL sinners” which will probably offend some who are reading this post. At the beginning of my Christian life I once held to the position that Christ died for everyone without exception (universal atonement) according to my imperfect understanding of John 3:16 but as time went on and I studied the Scriptures more and more I saw problems with the theological system called Arminianism (free will, conditional election, universal atonement, etc..) which is taught in part or in whole in the majority of professing Christian Churches today. One of the first verses to shake my Arminian understanding of the Bible was John 17:9:
“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)
I had a hard time reconciling the “pray not for the world” part with my Arminian universal atonement view of John 3:16. Being a young Christian I still had many things to learn about the Scriptures. One of those things I came to learn was that the Greek word “kosmos” translated “world” in many places can have different meanings depending upon the context. Yes, context is important when interpreting the Scriptures. The word “world” does not necessarily and always mean “each and every person alive at one moment of time upon the face of the earth”. Just take a concordance and check out every instance of the word “world”. If you are honest with yourself you will see that the word “world” does not always refer to all humanity (each living person without exception).
I would later come to receive a book which taught the particular redemption** view of the atonement. This view teaches that Christ died only for the souls that were unconditionally elected by God unto salvation (Acts 13:48). Initially I had a great hesitation to read the book because I thought that the idea that Christ did not die for everyone was totally wrong and could not be defended Biblically. After reading the short biographical sketch of the author, a 19th century Swiss pastor by the name of César Malan who rather than stop teaching his view of the atonement had decided to leave his paid job*** as a pastor within the established Swiss church, I decided to read the book (around November 2001) and came to be convinced that the particular redemption view of the atonement was the correct one. The book is called “The Church is Mine : What the Bible Teaches about the Redemption of the Church” (sold here)
** also known as “limited atonement”, “definite atonement” or “efficacious atonement”
*** he had a family to support at the time so the decision to leave his paid job was not an easy one
This is what Charles Spurgeon had to say about the universal atonement teaching :
“Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, “It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself,” they say, “to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.” I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!”
“Now, beloved, when you hear any one laughing or jeering at a limited atonement, you may tell him this. General atonement is like a great wide bridge with only half an arch; it does not go across the stream: it only professes to go half way; it does not secure the salvation of anybody. Now, I had rather put my foot upon a bridge as narrow as Hungerford, which went all the way across, than on a bridge that was as wide as the world, if it did not go all the way across the stream.”
To the Arminians, “ Biblicists” or “Bible believers” as they exclusively call themselves (people who don’t want to be labeled either “Calvinists” or “Arminians” but who tend to be 4-point “Calvinists” for some reason… just a pattern I’ve noticed), 4-point “Calvinists” (a.k.a. “inconsistent Calvinists”) who in reality are 4-point Arminians, Pelagians, Finneyites and Semi-Pelagians who may read this post and may be ready to toss out John 3:16 without taking into account the first 8 verses of that same chapter which teach PARTICULAR REGENERATION (which itself consequently points to PARTICULAR REDEMPTION since God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit love the same exact group of people with the same amount of love), I offer the “George Mueller Challenge” since it is very, very, very likely that not one of you is as great a prayer warrior or as fruitful a Christian as George Mueller was. George Mueller ardently opposed the doctrines of grace earlier in his Christian life but over time came to believe in all 5 points of TULIP (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Invincible grace and Perseverance/Preservation of the saints). It’s very interesting to learn how he came to these convictions. I will let him tell you in his own words which are found in his autobiography:
“That the word of God alone is our standard of judgment in spiritual things; that it can be explained only by the Holy Spirit; and that in our day, as well as in former times, He is the teacher of His people. The office of the Holy Spirit I had not experimentally understood before that time. Indeed, of the office of each of the blessed persons, in what is commonly called the Trinity, I had no experimental apprehension.”
“I had not before seen from the Scriptures that the Father chose us before the foundation of the world; that in Him that wonderful plan of our redemption originated, and that He also appointed all the means by which it was to be brought about.”
“Further that the Son, to save us, had fulfilled the law, to satisfy its demands, and with it also the holiness of God; that He had borne the punishment due to our sins, and had thus satisfied the justice of God.”
“And further, that the Holy Spirit alone can teach us about our state by nature, show us the need of a Saviour, enable us to believe in Christ, explain to us the Scriptures, help us in preaching, etc.”
Here’s the “George Mueller Challenge”:
“It was my beginning to understand this latter point in particular, which had a great effect on me; for THE LORD ENABLED ME TO PUT IT TO THE TEST OF EXPERIENCE, BY LAYING ASIDE COMMENTARIES, AND ALMOST EVERY OTHER BOOK, SIMPLY READING THE WORD OF GOD AND STUDYING IT. The result of this was, that the first evening that I shut myself into my room, to GIVE MYSELF TO PRAYER AND MEDITATION OVER THE SCRIPTURES, I learned more in a few hours than I had done during a period of several months previously. But the particular difference was, that I received real strength for my soul in doing so. I now began to try by the test of the Scriptures the things which I had learned and seen, and found that only those principles which stood the test were really of value.”
[My comment : I would add that it is best to not let emotional attachments, wishful thinking and theological preferences cloud one’s thinking and just submit to what is revealed (when properly understood in its context)]
“Before this period I had been much opposed to the doctrines of election, PARTICULAR REDEMPTION, and final persevering grace; so much so that, a few days after my arrival at Teignmouth I called election a devilish doctrine. I did not believe that I had brought myself to the Lord, for that was too manifestly false; but yet I held, that I might have resisted finally.”
“And further, I knew nothing about the choice of God’s people, and did not believe that the child of God, when once made so, was safe for ever. In my fleshly mind I had repeatedly said, If once I could prove that I am a child of God for ever, I might go back into the world for a year or two, and then return to the Lord, and at last be saved.”
“But now I was brought to examine these precious truths by the word of God. Being made willing to have no glory of my own in the conversion of sinners, but to consider myself merely as an instrument; and being made willing to receive what the Scriptures said; I went to the Lord, reading the New Testament from the beginning, with a particular reference to these truths. To my great astonishment I found that the passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against these truths; and even those few, shortly after, when I had examined and understood them, served to confirm me in the above doctrines.”
“As to the effect which my belief in these doctrines had on me, I am constrained to state, for God’s glory, that though I am still exceedingly weak, and by no means so dead to the lusts of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, as I might and as I ought to be, yet, by the grace of God, I have walked more closely with Him since that period. My life has not been so variable, and I may say that I have lived much more for God than before. And for this have I been strengthened by the Lord, in a great measure, through the instrumentality of these truths. For in the time of temptation, I have been repeatedly led to say: “Should I thus sin? I should only bring misery into my soul for a time, and dishonour God; for, being a son of God for ever, I should have to be brought back again, though it might be in the way of severe chastisement.”
“Thus, I say, the electing love of God in Christ (when I have been able to realize it) has often been the means of producing holiness, instead of leading me into sin. It is only the notional apprehension of such truths, the want of having them in the heart, whilst they are in the head, which is dangerous.”
For of those you who would like to read more about why people hold to particular redemption I will now present a non-exhaustive list of text, audio and video resources presenting and defending the right view of the atonement. May the Lord bless you in studying His Holy Word!
John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”
Arthur W. Pink, “The Sovereignty of God”
C. Matthew McMahon, “Jesus Died for Aliens on Planet Zeno”
John Murray, “The Atonement”
Charles Spurgeon, “A Defense of Calvinism”
Charles Spurgeon, “Particular Redemption”
J. Gresham Machen, “The Doctrine of the Atonement”
J. Gresham Machen, “The Active Obedience of Christ”
J. Gresham Machen, “The Bible and the Cross”
Francis Turretin, “The Case for a Definite and Complete Atonement”
Lorraine Boettner, “Reformed Doctrine of Predestination”: Section on Limited Atonement
Thomas Paul Simmons, “A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine” : The Doctrine of the Atonement
S. Lewis Johnson, “Inconsistencies in Modified Calvinism, part II – Amyraldianism”
S. Lewis Johnson, “Inconsistencies in Modified Calvinism, part VI – The Word “World””
S. Lewis Johnson, “Suffering Savior – The Purpose of the Atonement: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21”
(Note : there are accompanying audio files to S. Lewis Johnson’s sermons on the sljinstitute.net website)
John Gill’s “The Cause of God and Truth” presents a detailed treatment of verses wrongly interpreted by Arminians.
Here are some more links providing a list of text documents dealing with the crucial topic of the Atonement:
I would also mention a very good DVD produced years ago called “Amazing Grace : The History and Theology of Calvinism” (sold here). In the DVD there is a section which presents and defends the doctrine of particular redemption.
AUDIOS (SERMONS, INTERVIEWS)
Chris Arnzen interviews Steve Camp on the topic of the Atonement:
Art Azurdia, “Limited Atonement”
Mr. Crosby, “Limited Atonement” (www.LetGodBeTrue.com)
Stephen Hamilton, “Atonement: Potential or Actual”
Pastor Alfred J. Chompff, “Particular Redemption”
Pastor Alfred J. Chompff, “Is It God’s Will That All Men Be Saved?”
Brian Borgman, “Grace Secured – Limited Atonement”
Grace Christian Assembly (http://www.salvationbygrace.org): Jim McClarty, “Limited Atonement Part 1”
Grace Christian Assembly (http://www.salvationbygrace.org): Jim McClarty, “Limited Atonement Part 2”
Grace Christian Assembly (http://www.salvationbygrace.org): Jim McClarty, “Limited Atonement Part 3 – John 3:16 Explained”
Grace Christian Assembly (http://www.salvationbygrace.org): Jim McClarty, “Limited Atonement Part 4 – Arguments”
I also recommend this 5-part critique of an anti-Calvinist sermon by Mr. McClarty and Jeff Young of Grace Christian Assembly (Tennessee):
Critique of Anti-Calvinist Sermon Part 1
Critique of Anti-Calvinist Sermon Part 2
Critique of Anti-Calvinist Sermon Part 3
Critique of Anti-Calvinist Sermon Part 4
Critique of Anti-Calvinist Sermon Part 5
Universal Atonement’s weakest link
Universal Atonement’s weakest link part 2
Arminians/Semi-Pelagians Teach and Believe in Limited Atonement.
Did Jesus Die for Everybody Who Ever Lived or Not? Debate #1: IS JESUS’ DEATH MAINLY A FAILURE?
Did Jesus Die for Everybody Who Ever Lived or Not? Debate #2: LIMITED ATONEMENT-FOR ELECT/NONELECT?
Did Jesus Die for Everybody Who Ever Lived or Not? Debate #3: DID CHRIST KNOWINGLY DIE FOR JUDAS?
Did Jesus Die for Everybody Who Ever Lived or Not? Debate #4: WHY DOES JESUS SPEAK IN PARABLES?
James White – Hebrews 2:9: A Denial of Particular Redemption?
Does John 3:16 refute Particular Redemption?
James White – John 3:16 Conference Q & A Session – Former Calvinist Speaks
James White – Pas ho pisteuwn: ‘everyone believing’ not ‘all can believe’
James White – I Believe in Limited Atonement!