FOR WHOM DID CHRIST DIE?
A Defense of Unlimited Atonement

 

Some Common Objections Answered

"If Christ died for all, then the sacrifice of Christ was futile with respect to the non-elect. It did nothing for them."

 

If nothing else, the death of Christ serves a condemnatory purpose for those who reject the Saviour. Men are condemned because they have rejected the Person and work of Jesus Christ (John 3:18) and have refused God’s only remedy for their sin (John 5:40). They can never say that a provision for their salvation was not made and not offered. They refused to receive the gift which God provided in His Son. Men are not lost because a Saviour was not provided. Men are lost because they have rejected the Saviour who was provided.

"In the limited view, the non-elect are not guilty of their rejection of Christ, for they have no Christ to reject; whereas in the unlimited and, we believe, the Biblical view men are guilty before God and will be condemned on the basis of their rejection of Christ" (Lightner, p. 130).
 

"If Christ died for all, then His death for the non-elect would have been a waste. It would never have accomplished their salvation."

God has done so very much on behalf of those who ultimately reject Him, but His efforts on their behalf are not a waste. The goodness and longsuffering and forbearance of God towards unbelieving men ought to bring them to repentance (Rom. 2:3), but alas, in many cases it does not. God strove with the unbelieving men prior to the flood (Gen. 6:3), and yet they perished in a watery grave. Yet God’s striving with these men was not a waste. In the early church the apostles and disciples shouted forth a message of good news to every creature (Mark 16:15) and yet the great majority rejected their message and even reacted violently against it. Were their efforts a waste? The people in John chapter 6 all walked away from the Lord, except for 12 and one of them was a traitor! The more Jesus preached the more people abandoned Him and went no more after Him. Does this mean His preaching was a waste? Believers are a savor, not only of "life unto life" but also of "death unto death" (2 Cor. 2:14-16). The believer is to be a testimony, not only to those who will be saved, but also to those who will perish, and such a testimony is surely not in vain and is surely not a waste. It is pleasing to God.

The are numerous examples from nature of things that seem to be a waste, but in reality they are part of God’s perfect plan for this world. Countless flowers grow and bloom and yet their beauty is never seen by any human eyes. "To what purpose do the fructifying showers fall on the ocean and the desert? To what purpose do a million apples rot untasted, and ten thousand million piles of grass wither unconsumed? To what purpose do innumerable medicinal herbs die unused? Are all these things in vain and to no purpose, because, forsooth, such fructifying showers do no fructify, and such nourishing vegetables do not nourish, and such healing herbs do not cure?" [Morison, The Extent of the Atonement, page 89]  Likewise, the death of Christ was not in vain and was not a waste, even though it is despised and mocked and counted as foolishness by the great majority of men.

God has not obscurely made known his intention. He designs, by the death of Christ for all, and by the preaching of it, to set mankind on a new footing. He has made the way clear for all being saved, by giving his son to die for all; and now he invites all, he commands all, he threatens all, he implores all; and if all do not comply, still the glory of his boundless love is magnified and most illustriously displayed, by the very fact that none have been excluded from salvation but by their own folly.  [Morison, The Extent of the Atonement, page 89.]

God’s redemptive love as demonstrated on the cross was lavished upon all men, rendering all without excuse. How tragic that there will be those for whom Christ died who will perish. But the reason for this is not that no provision was made and no gift was given. Rather, the gift has been rejected and the love has been spurned. "Wonderful grace of Jesus, reaching to all the lost!"

 

ďChristís death must do more than simply make men savable. It must infallibly secure their salvation. That is, everyone for whom Christ has died must be saved.Ē

 

John Piper states it this way: "We affirm that when Christ died particularly for His bride, He did not simply create a possibility or an opportunity for salvation, but really purchased and infallibly secured for them all that is necessary to get them saved, including the grace of regeneration and the gift of faith" [From the article What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism#Atonement, accessed Nov. 10, 2015].  In other words, in Piperís view, the substitutionary death of Christ had a limited purpose, to secure the salvation of every elect person.

When we humbly bow before all of Scripture, we see that Christ died with a double intention, not just a single narrow intention. He died to make salvation possible to all (unlimited provision/unlimited atonement for all men) and certain to some (definite or particular redemption for His elect).

Christ's atoning death provides the ground and the only possible basis for salvation. This salvation is provided for all but secured individually only by those who trust in the crucified One. Christís atoning death is not self-applying (which seems to be the meaning that Piper is incorporating into his idea of infallibly "securing").

The death of Christ, by itself, does not secure the salvation of the elect. Christ died for Saul of Tarsus, but this great fact in itself did not secure his salvation. Christís substitutionary death was absolutely necessary in order for Saul of Tarsus to be saved, but other things had to happen as well. In Acts 7, at the time of the stoning of Stephen, Saul of Tarsus was not saved, even though Christ had died for him. He was yet in his sins. In time God would draw this man to Himself, show him his sins, open his heart to the truth of the gospel, and Saul would trust the Saviour, experiencing the miracle of regeneration at the moment of saving faith. The benefits of the work Christ accomplished on the cross are not put to any manís account until that man believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. Only then is he justified fully through Calvaryís love!

Keep in mind that our sins are not borne away, removed, blotted out, forgiven until we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sins were not blotted out from Godís sight when Christ died on the Cross. This takes place through the Holy Spiritís application of the value of Christís atoning death when we receive Him as Saviour. "Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins" (Acts 3:19, in regard to Israel). "In Whom [i.e., when we are "in Christ," and not before] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph.1:7, in regard to Christians). "To Him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in His blood" (Rev. 1:5, when the value of that precious blood was applied to us through faith).

Yet, Piperís view of Christís death "securing" our salvation seems to imply the erroneous notion that the death of Christ, by itself, secures our salvation and removes our sins. Christ died for the sins of all men (which speaks of unlimited provision and sufficiency, not of unlimited application and efficiency). However, no oneís sins were put away or removed by the Cross in and of itself; such is a matter of the application of the value of the atoning sufferings, death, and bloodshedding of the Lord Jesus Christ, only to those who believe on Him, and only when they believe on Him.

The value of His atoning death was not applied to the elect 2,000 years ago on the Cross. No one is saved until they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen (Acts 16:31). Then, and only then, is the infinite value of the cross-work applied to the individual, in sovereign grace, by the Spirit of God. Prior to being saved by grace through faith, we were "by nature children of wrath even as the rest" (Eph. 2:3). The elect are not born in this world in a saved or forgiven position, with their sins already borne away, removed, blotted out of Godís sight.

"For it is absolutely true that, till they believe, all are alike sons of disobedience, and children of wrath. So the apostle classes himself with the most privileged of mankind, yet declares that Ďwe also all once had our conversation in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and the thoughts, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest.í " (William Kelly, Bible Treasury, Vol. 4, New Series, page 190). "But, it is when the soul believes in the efficacy of Christ's death, that the burden of guilt is taken away, and this with the surest warrant of God to every one that believes" (William Kelly on Leviticus 16).

A key question is simply this: Has God provided salvation for all men or do we have a gospel only for the elect? Do we really have a message of good news for every single sinner? Itís not enough to say, "Even though the good news is not for everyone, Iíll tell them all because I donít know who the elect are." We must preach the good news to every creature (Mark 16:15) which implies that we really do have good news for every creature! We need to have a genuine cure which we can offer to every sin-sick soul. Sinners may reject the remedy and they may reject what the Saviour has accomplished for them. God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and this is why He died for all (1 Tim. 2:6). It is clearly stated that Christ loved the rich young ruler even though the man rejected His rich offer (Mark 10:21). But the offer was sincere and genuine. [Note: Arthur Pink believes that the rich young ruler must have put his faith in Christ at a later time because in Pinkís theology Christ cannot love anyone but the elect!2 Of course there is no Scriptural evidence for this. It is a statement driven by Pinkís theology, not by Godís truth.]

If the five-point Calvinist earnestly preaches Christ crucified to all the lost and urges them to believe in the One who died for them, then in reality he is urging many of them to believe a lie. He is urging the non-elect to believe in a Saviour who did not die for their sins. There can be no genuine salvation offer unless genuine provision has been made. Men are not lost because Christ did not die for them; they are lost because they have refused to believe in the Christ who died for them. "And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40).

Go to Next Chapter

Return to Main Index

 


The Middletown Bible Church
349 East Street
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 346-0907

  More articles under Doctrinal Studies

More articles under PROBLEMS WITH REFORMED THEOLOGY

Home Page