A Defense of Unlimited Atonement


Do We Really Have A Gospel for Every Creature?


How can we preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) if Christ did not die for every creature? If the good news of the cross is only for some, then how can we preach it with sincerity to all? As L.S. Chafer asks, "How can a universal gospel be preached if there is no universal provision? To say on the one hand that Christ died only for the elect and on the other hand that His death is the ground on which salvation is offered to all men is perilously near contradiction" (Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct-Dec. 1980, p. 315). As C.H. Mackintosh has said, "A disciple of the high school of doctrine will not hear of a world-wide gospel – of God’s love to the world – of glad tidings to every creature under heaven. He has only gotten a gospel for the elect" (in his article, One-Sided Theology).

John Bunyan said it this way, "The offer of the Gospel cannot, with God’s allowance, be offered any further than the death of Christ did go; because if it be taken away, there is indeed no Gospel, nor grace to be extended" (Bunyan’s Works). In other words, how can you offer the gospel to a person if Christ did not die for that person? How can we offer the sinner what has not been provided? As Lightner has said, "No maxim appears more certain than that a salvation offered implies a salvation provided" (p. 114).

The believer in a limited atonement cannot say to an unsaved person: "My friend, the Lord Jesus died on the cross for you. He died as your Substitute, in your stead. He paid the penalty for your sins." [Read again Jay Adam’s quote given earlier.] The heart of the gospel message is "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3). Beware of any theology that removes the very heart of the gospel.

One way that limited atonement evangelists can handle this problem is to preach the death of Christ in very general terms: "Christ died for sinners. Christ died for the ungodly." Of course, what they mean is that Christ died for elect sinners and He died for those ungodly ones who are elect. The problem with this approach is that the message of the cross can never be personalized to the individual sinner. What is it that we know for sure about the sinner with whom we are sharing the gospel? We know for sure that he is an ungodly sinner, and we can show him this from the Scripture. Do we know for sure that Christ died for him? There is no way the limited atonement evangelist can know this at the time he presents the gospel to the sinner. "I know you have a problem, but I’m not sure there is a solution to your problem. I know you have a terrible disease, but I am not sure there is a remedy for you."

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