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The Doctrine of Limited Atonement Preserves the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement

January 17, 2007

I will be an advocate now for some of the details of Reformed theology and I do this in the spirit of Spurgeon who wrote, “Calvinism has in it a conservative force which helps to hold men to vital truths.”   My thesis for the rest of this sermon is this:  The Reformed doctrine of limited atonement preserves the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

Here’s the question before us:  Did Jesus die for the sins of all mankind, or just for the sins of all who would believe in him, that is, just for the sins of the elect?  Or, when you read this verse “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” Which word are you going to emphasize?  Us or All?  Did He die for all mankind, or did he die for all of us?

Depends on what you mean by die for.  If  you mean he died to show the depths of divine love to all men or he died to show God’s hatred of sin to all men or he died as an example for all men or he died to offer the gospel to all men, then yes, in those ways he died for all men.   But I have been arguing for the last two weeks that that is not what the phrase “died for” means.  We have seen that when Isaiah says that the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, it means that Jesus satisfied the demands of divine justice against our sins.  And there is no way that he could have done that for all mankind.  If he really satisfied the demands of divine justice against all mankind, why are there people experiencing the wrath of God in hell?  Either the penalty for their sins is paid for or it is not.  Either divine justice is satisfied or it is not.  If Jesus suffered the wrath of God against the sins of those in hell, then it is unjust for God to keep punishing  those who are in hell.  Finney recognized this and, at least he was consistent, rejected the satisfaction theory of the atonement. 

I want you to believe that Jesus satisfied the demands of divine justice against the sins of all those who would believe on Him.  I want you to sing “On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt and made me free.” And so for this reason I argue for limiting the extent of the atonement.   The questions of the extent of the atonement and the nature of the atonement are unavoidably linked and everyone must limit one or the other.  If you insist an unlimited atonement as regards its extent (He died for all mankind) then you end up limiting its power.  Because you can’t believe that he actually paid the debt for everyone on the cross or else all mankind would be saved.  So if you are going to be Biblically faithful and affirm the reality of hell you have to waffle and say something like “Well, he died to make salvation possible for all mankind.”  But that’s not what the Bible says.  He saved you, he didn’t just make you savable.  He paid your debt, he didn’t just offer you money so you could pay it yourself if you decide by your own free will to accept it.

Let me conclude by answering some objections that you may have in your minds

1) The infinite merit of the death of Christ on the cross is certainly enough to pay for the sins of all mankind.  No one denies that.  Both sides of this debate would agree about its sufficiency.  The question is one of intent.  For whom was the infinite merit of the death of Christ intended?

2) What am I going to do with those verses in the NT that say “He died for all” or He died for the whole world”?  1 John 2:2 and He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.  Now if “whole world” means each and every person in the world, and Christ has atoned for their sins, how can each and every person in the whole world not be forgiven?  So “whole world” must mean something else.  But don’t trust my logic.  Here’s a Scriptural argument.   The same author, John, wrote in John 11:51 that “Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also for the scattered children of God that he may gather them together and make them one.”   Not just for Jews but for Gentiles too!  Remember that it is John, the author of Revelation, who also tells us that there will be worshipping before the throne people from every tribe and tongue and nation.   That is what the phrase “world” means in 1 John 2:2.  So when I see the phrase “He died for all” I think right, not just Jews, but Gentiles too, people from every nation, all who would believe on Him.  So these verses, rightly understood, actually become missionary texts.  Which leads me to respond to a third objection.

3) If Jesus didn’t pay the penalty for the sin of each and every person on the planet, doesn’t this discourage evangelism?  No, because first of all we don’t know who the elect are and so we simply obey the command to preach the gospel to all creation.  Paul said in 2 Timothy “I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.”  God has ordained the end of the salvation of the elect, but he has also ordained the means of Paul’s and our preaching to them.  That is the way the elect get saved, by missionaries going out to them.  Second, I would argue that the certainty of Jesus missionary triumph that is secured by this view of the atonement is a powerful incentive to missionary service.  The salvation of people from every tribe in Kazakhstan is not left to the chance of their free will responses, but rather we know that some of them will be saved because the Worthy Lamb has died to purchase people from every tribe in Kazakhstan.  Historically, that vision has called people to make glorious sacrifices for missionary service.  Please do not forget that William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement in the 1790s, was a Particular Baptist (meaning particular, not general redemption) and would have said Amen to the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement.     Do not believe the propaganda that says that Reformed theology discourages missions and evangelism.  We have a glorious missionary history.  And oh how I pray that we would be a Reformed missionary church.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 18, 2007 1:32 pm

    *stands in the back of the room hands in the air*
    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamen brutha, amen.

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