A Defense of Unlimited Atonement


Some Common Objections Answered

"The gospel message has nothing to do with the extent of the atonement."

J.I. Packer argues that the extent of the atonement has nothing to do with the gospel: "What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given. And this is all that has to be said. The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all....The gospel is not, ‘believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours.’"

Contrary to what Packer says, Paul tells us that the heart of the gospel message which he preached to unsaved Corinthians (including many non-elect Corinthians) was this: "how that Christ died for OUR SINS (yours and mine)." See 1 Corinthians 15:1-3. If this was the gospel Paul preached, should it not be the gospel we preach? We would like to ask J.I. Packer and others who limit the atonement this question: Are you able to approach an unsaved person and say from your heart sincerely, "My friend, I have good news for you. Jesus Christ died for you. He paid the penalty for your sins"?

"What About Passages Which Limit Christ’s Death to a Select Group?"

There are certainly passages which speak of Christ dying for His church, for His sheep, for His own. "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph. 5:25). "Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us" (Eph. 5:2). "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). Such passages cannot be used as arguments that Christ died only for the church, and only for the elect. In the same way someone could argue from Galatians 2:20 that Christ died only for the Apostle Paul. How absurd!

Richard Baxter, in his book Universal Redemption of Mankind, says that "there is not one text of Scripture that saith Christ died not for all, or Christ died only for his Chosen, or any thing equivalent" (p.275). It is not enough for the limited redemptionists to find verses that say that Christ died for the church or for His own., etc. With this we would all agree. To prove a limited atonement they would also need to find verses which clearly state that Christ died only for the church and only for His own and for no one else. But no such statements exist in the Scriptures.

"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His Name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). This verse is often cited as proof that Christ died only for "His people." The verse does say that "He shall save HIS PEOPLE from their sins," but caution must be exercised before we equate "HIS PEOPLE" with the elect. According to Matthew 2:6, "HIS PEOPLE" are Israel, not just elect Israel. Christ came to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6) and yet many of these lost sheep refused to believe (Matthew 10:14-15). Is it possible for God to call a people "HIS OWN" and have some of them be hardened unbelievers? The answer is found in John 1:11: "He came unto His own, and HIS OWN received Him not." God’s people, the Jewish people, for the most part rejected their Saviour. But we must never forget that the good news of God’s Saviour is "TO ALL PEOPLE" (Luke 2:10-11). Christ will save all people in a provisionary sense, for He died to provide salvation for all. In a special sense He will actually save only those who trust in His finished cross-work.

Notes of interest regarding Matthew 1:21 and Luke 2:10:

Commenting on Matthew 1:21, Calvin--contrary to almost all "Calvinists"--understood the "his people" whom Jesus would "save from their sins," to be the Jewish nation, not the elect (see Calvin’s commentary on the Synoptic Gospels which was one of his last writings, being published originally in 1563 (Calvin died the next year at 54).

Calvin’s comments on Luke 2:10 are of interest. He believed that "all the people" referred to the Jewish people (not to the elect Jews only), and by application "the whole human race." Here are his comments: "God invites all indiscriminately to salvation through the Gospel, but the ingratitude of the world is the reason why this grace, which is equally offered to all, is enjoyed by few. Although this joy is confined to a few persons, yet, with respect to God, it is said to be common. When the angel says that this joy shall be to all the people, he speaks of the chosen people only; but now that ‘the middle wall of partition’ (Eph. 2:14) has been thrown down, the same passage has reference to the whole human race" (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke by John Calvin, vol. I, Baker Book House reprint, 1979, pp. 115-116).


"Christ died for all men WITHOUT DISTINCTION but He did not die for all men WITHOUT EXCEPTION."

This is a clever way for those who believe in limited atonement to say that Christ died for all even though they do not really mean that He died for all. When they say that Christ died for all men WITHOUT DISTINCTION they mean that Christ died for all kinds of men. He died for (elect) males and (elect) females. He died for (elect) slaves and (elect) freemen. He died for (elect) Jews and (elect) Gentiles. But they insist that He did not die for all men without exception, because they believe He died only for the elect. Hebrews 2:9 teaches that Christ died for all men without exception. Isaiah 53:6 teaches that on Him were placed the iniquities of all of us!

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