Posts Tagged ‘Unlimited Atonement’
Editors Note: Wise words from Dr. Richard Watson, one of the greatest Arminian theologians ever, about the extent of the atonement of Christ.
The question before us, put into its most simple form, is, whether our Lord Jesus Christ did so die for all men, as to make salvation attainable by all men; and the affirmative of this question is, we think, the doctrine of Scripture.
We assume that this is plainly expressed,
1. In all those passages which declare that Christ died for all men, and speak of his death as an atonement for the sins of the whole world.
We have already seen, in treating of our Lords atonement, in what sense the phrase, to die for us, must be understood; that it signifies to die in the place and stead of man, as a sacrificial oblation, by which satisfaction is made for the sins of the individual, so that they become remissible upon the terms of the evangelical covenant. When, therefore, it is said, that Christ by the grace of GOD tasted death for every man; and that he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world; it can only, we think be fairly concluded from such declarations, and from many other familiar texts, in which the same phraseology is employed, that, by the death of Christ, the sins of every man are rendered remissible, and that salvation is consequently attainable by every man. Again, our Lord called himself the Saviour of the world; and is, by St. Paul, called the Saviour of all men. John the Baptist points him out as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world; and our Lord himself declares, God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life: for GOD sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that time world through him might be saved. So, also the Apostle Paul, GOD was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.
2. In those passages which attribute an equal extent to the effect! of the death of Christ as to the effects of the fall of our first parents For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. Therefore, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
As the unlimited extent of Christs atonement to all mankind, is plainly expressed in the above-cited passages, so is it, we also assume, necessarily implied,
1. In those which declare that Christ died not only for those that are saved, but for those who do, or may perish; so that it cannot be argued, from the actual condemnation of men, that they were excepted from many actual, and from all the offered, benefits of his death. And through thy knowledge shall thy weak brother perish, for whom Christ died. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. False teachers, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. So also in the case of the apostates mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith h was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace It any dispute should here arise as to the phrase, wherewith lie was sanctified, reference may be made to chap. vi, of the same epistle, where the same class of persons, whose doom is pronounced to be inevitable, are said to have been once enlightened; to have tasted of the heavenly gift; to have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost; to have tasted the good word of GOD, and the powers of the world to come : all which expressions show that they were placed on the same ground with other Christians as to their interest in the new covenant,a point to which we shall again recur.
2. In all those passages which make it the duty of men to believe the Gospel; and place them under guilt, and the penalty of death, for rejecting it. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. He that believeth not is condemned already, because he bath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The plain argument from all such passages is, that the Gospel is commanded to be preached to all men; that it is preached to them that they may believe in Christ, its Author; that this faith is required of them, in order to their salvation, that believing ye may have life through his name ; that they have power thus to believe to their salvation; (from whatever source, or by whatever means this power is derived to them, need not now be examined: it is plainly sup. posed; for not to believe, is reckoned to them as a capital crime, for which they are condemned already, and reserved to final condemnation;) and that having power to believe, they have the power to obtain salvation, which, as it can be bestowed only through the merits of Christs sacrifice, proves that it extends to them. The same conclusion, also, follows from time nature of that faith, which is required by the Gospel, in order to salvation. This, we have already seen, is not mere assent to the doctrine of Christs sacrificial death, but personal trust in it as our atonement; which those, surely, could not be required by a God of truth to exercise, if that atonement did not embrace them. Nor could they be guilty for refusing to trust in that which was never intended to be the object of their trust; for if God so designed to exclude them from Christ, he could not command them to trust in Christ; and if they are not commanded thus to trust in Christ, they do not violate any command by not believing; and, in this respect, are innocent.
3. In all those passages in which mens failure to obtain salvation is placed to the account of their own opposing wills, and made wholly their own fault. How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! And ye will not come to me that ye may have life. Bringing upon themselves swift destruction. Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. It is useless here to multiply quotations, since the New Testament so constantly exhorts men to come to Christ, reproves them for neglect, and threatens them with the penal consequences of their own folly: thus uniformly placing the bar to their salvation, just where Christ places it, in his parable of the supper, in the perverseness of those, who having been bidden to the feast, would not come. From these premises, then, it follows, that since the Scriptures always attribute the ruin of mens souls to their own will, and not to the will of God; we ought to seek for no other cause of their condemnation. We can know nothing on this subject but what God has revealed. He has declared that it is not his will that men should perish: on the contrary, He willeth all men to be saved; and therefore commands us to pray for all men; he has declared, that the reason they are not saved, is not that Christ did not die for them, but that they will not come to him for the life which he died to procure for the world; and it must therefore be concluded, that the sole bar to the salvation of all who are lost is in themselves, and not in any such limitation of Christs redemption, as supposes that they were not comprehended in its efficacy and intention.
It will now be necessary for us to consider what those who have adopted a different opinion have to urge against these plain and literal declarations of Scripture. It is their burthen, that they are compelled to explain these passages in a more limited and qualified sense, than the letter of them and its obvious meaning teaches: and that they must do this by inference merely; for it is not even pretended that there is any text whatever to be adduced, which declares as literally, that Christ did not die for the salvation of all, as those which declare that he did so die. We have no passages, therefore, to examine, which, in their clear literal meaning, stand opposed to those which we have quoted, so as to present apparent contradictions which require to be reconciled by concession on one side or the other. This is at least, prima facie, strongly in favour of those who hold that, in the same sense, and with the same design, Jesus Christ tasted death for every man.
Arminians such as myself are thankful that Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) and that the gospel is to be preached to all (Mark 16:15). I am thankful that God calls all to repent (Acts 17:30-31). I am thankful that Jesus died for all so that all can come and be saved through faith in Him (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 1 John 2:1-2). All who come to Christ are the elect of God through faith in Christ (1 Timothy 4:10). Those who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of Christ and their love for sin (Mark 16:16; Revelation 21:7-8).
Calvinism teaches that God also gives a general call to salvation for all to come and be saved. This general call goes to all nations. However, since Christ died only for the elect, only the elect will receive a special, inward call or effectual call that the Holy Spirit works in their hearts to regenerate them so that they can exercise the gift of faith and be saved. Calvinists believe that this general call to salvation is a sincere call from a loving God for people to come to faith in Christ.
The problem is that one will be hard pressed to show that this is a sincere call from God for people to be saved. Consider this, in Calvinism God elects people before time began and He reprobates others (the vast majority in fact). God then sends His Son to die for the elect that He predestined. God then tells the elect to go and preach the gospel to the non-elect whom He has rejected and whom He has left in their sins when He could have chosen them if He wanted to. How is this a sincere call? The fallen creatures cannot respond to the gospel apart from God’s intervention but we are told that God is still sincere in His desire for them to come and be saved despite the fact that A) He has not chosen them to do so and B) He has made sure that they will not hear His effectual call to salvation.
Now the Calvinist says that God is good and loving and that He could have left all in their sins without hope of redemption. This is certainly true but I am thankful that Scripture reveals that God has sent His Son to redeem all of humanity who would come and be saved. When the Philippians jailor asked what he must do to be saved in Acts 16:30, the consistent Calvinist would have to tell him, “Nothing, unless God has called you and then you will respond to His effectual, special call.” Yet Paul told him to look to Christ to be saved. This is the call of the Arminian, to preach to all to look to Christ to be saved and this call is not a hidden, secretive call but a true call to repentance. We believe that our evangelism is consistent with our view that Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2).
Consider this from the book Why I Am Not a Calvinist:
Only the elect can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.
Not all are elect.
Not all persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.
God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to all persons.
A bona fide offer is one that can actually be accepted by the person to whom it is extended.
All persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.
Do you see the contradiction here? The Calvinist says that God makes a bona fide call for people to be saved. Yet not all can come and be saved since God has elected to save only those whom He has predestined to save. Therefore, this cannot be a bone fide call to salvation. God is not sincere in His call for the lost to be saved in Christ.
Arminianism is superior here because our call is truthful. All can be saved through faith in Christ. Where Jesus is preached, He draws sinners to Himself (John 6:44; 12:32; Romans 10:17). Those who repent are saved through faith and added to the Church (Acts 2:37-39, 47). Our cry to the nations is repent! Our cry is to look to Christ to be saved. There is no salvation apart from Him (John 14:6). Our passion should be to make His name known in all nations so that all can be saved (Romans 10:13). Our passion should be to glorify Christ through faithful preaching of His salvation to all (Luke 24:47). Christ died for all so that all can be saved (2 Peter 3:9). Praise God for that truth!
This morning I was listening to some Reformed brothers speak in a panel discussion on the vicarious atonement of Christ. One of the brothers began to talk about what he called “the Pelagian view” and he placed Arminianism in here as well saying that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ died a vicarious atonement in the sinner’s place and thus Christ paid a definite atonement for the sins of the elect. Thus when Christ died, He paid the actual sin debt of the elect predestined by God before time began. He attacked what he called “the false teaching that the atonement makes mankind savable but doesn’t actually save anyone.” He said that such a view would be double jeopardy and would mean that Christ died for the sins of the world but people go to hell for the sins that Christ paid their price for.
Now there are many problems with this brother’s view. I would to first state that this brother is a brother who is passionate for evangelism, passionate to preach the gospel to the lost and I respect him for his zeal for the glory of God. That said, I believe he is in error regarding what it is that Arminians believe about the atonement of the Lord Jesus. Calvinist scholars Kim Riddlebarger and Edwin Palmer both wrote, “The death of Christ does not actually save sinners but merely renders people savable if they exercise their freedom to choose to follow Christ” and “Because the Arminian believes in an atonement that is unlimited in its extent, it is necessarily a vague, indefinite, poverty stricken atonement that does not actually save anyone” (Arminian Theology, p.222).
A couple of points here. First, we Arminians hold to an unlimited atonement because we see that in Scripture. Passages such as Luke 19:10; John 1:29; 3:16; 4:42; 12:32; Romans 5:18; 11:32; Galatians 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; Hebrews 2:9, 14-15; 2 Peter 2:1; 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14; Revelation 22:17. We believe that, when read in their proper contexts, it is clear that Jesus shed His blood for all to be saved. Not to mention the universal passages regarding the call to salvation (which my Reformed brothers do accept by the way) such as in Isaiah 45:22 (the passage that led to Spurgeon’s conversion to Christ); 55:1-2 or the great commission itself in Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:31; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Certainly I would agree that God foreknows those who are His own and thus election is a biblical truth but I would add, as do my Reformed brethren, that we are commanded by God to preach the gospel to all and the Lord saves those who believe the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). We Arminians simply accept the biblical teaching of a universal aspect to the saving work of Christ. We don’t deny that Christ died for His sheep (John 10:14) or for Paul (Galatians 2:20) or for His Church (Ephesians 5:25-26) but we also assert that He gave His life for all so that all can come and be saved by grace through faith (Romans 10:13).
Secondly, even my Reformed brethren admit that we are saved by grace through faith. This is a Reformation teaching. We reformed Arminians stand gladly with our reformed Calvinist friends and preach that Jesus alone saves sinners by grace through faith apart from works (John 3:3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Good works flow from our salvation (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12-13; James 2:14-26) but not in order to obtain salvation (Romans 4:5). Faith is contrasted with works in Romans 4 and it is clear that faith is not a work for salvation. Faith is the mere acceptance of the finished work of Christ for our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). No biblical Arminians would teach that Jesus saves us but we keep us. It is clear in Scripture that Jesus saves us and He keeps us by His own power and grace (John 10:27-30; Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Peter 1:5) but we do stress that we are saved by faith and kept by faith (2 Corinthians 1:24; 11:2-4). None can be saved apart from faith. So when did my Reformed brothers get saved? Was it on the cross? If so, were they born sinless or are they born justified before God? What about eternity past? Were they eternally justified in the omniscient mind of God (Revelation 13:8)? I believe the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith (John 3:16; Acts 15:11; 16:30-34; 17:30-31; Romans 3:21-31; 4:24-5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9). So are we justified unto faith or by faith (Romans 5:1)?
Thirdly, there are passages that seem to teach that Christ died for those who deny His work. For instance, Romans 14:15 which says in the NASB, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” That seems very close to teaching that this brother could be offended by the eating of certain foods and turn away from the faith and be destroyed but Paul the Apostle says that Christ died for him.
Another passage to study is 2 Peter 2:1 where Peter the Apostle seems to teach that Christ died for false teachers. Both are interesting passages to debate.
I would close by saying that Arminians don’t believe that the atonement saves all. We simply believe that all can come and be saved the same way that our Reformed brethren preach in the open air, and that is to all, knowing that not all will be saved but those who come through the drawing of the Spirit (John 6:44) will become the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Peter 1:2). We deny that all are saved simply because Jesus died but we affirm with our Reformed brethren that only those who believe the gospel are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21). Those who reject the sacrifice of Christ are lost. They remain in their state of rebellion against God (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 2:3). Only those who believe the gospel can it be truly said that Jesus shed His blood for them (Romans 5:8-9).
Our duty is to preach the gospel to all and the Lord saves sinners (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). We stand with our Reformed brethren and preach that Christ alone is our salvation and He alone saves (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
Many believe that only Calvinists limit the atonement. We Arminians like to champion our view of “unlimited atonement” but in reality, we both limit the atonement. For instance, Calvinists limit the atonement to the elect only, that Christ died only for the elect. We Arminians do agree. We don’t believe in universalism or the idea that Christ died for all equally. We believe that the Bible teaches that there is a heaven for the saved and a hell for the lost (John 5:24-25). But we believe that Christ died as well for the elect of God. The key difference here is whether this salvation (0r election) is based on conditions from God or not. Calvinists hold that God has unconditionally elected whom He will save and those whom He will condemn. Arminians reject this view and believe that Christ is the elected one and that His blood secures salvation for whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). In other words, the sovereign choice of God was to send His Son to secure the salvation of all human beings who would place their saving faith in His Son. Some say, “He elected the plan but not the man.” While I think that is a bit too simple and is not completely accurate of the Arminian view, it does reflect the heart of Arminianism in some ways such as our view that God has not chosen few to salvation while condemning the vast majority. We believe this doesn’t reflect the doctrine of God in regard to His love for humanity (John 3:16).
My own view is that election is conditioned upon saving faith in Jesus (2 Peter 1:10-11). Thus at this point, the now saved disciple becomes the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10). God foreknows those who His (Romans 8:29) and He knows the free will decisions of all humans. He does not force anyone to be saved but He allows the person to freely come to Him for salvation (John 6:37-45; 12:32). Calvinists would agree in part. For example, R.C. Sproul teaches that people do come to Christ on their own free will and that God does not force anyone to be saved but the difference is that God places an inward call in the elect to come to Christ to be saved. This grace is irresistible and effectual in its calling. All the elect of God will hear the call of grace and will be regenerated to believe. Arminians reply that this grace is resistible but to those who repent, salvation is freely given.
So the reality is that both Arminians and Calvinists believe in some ways in a limited atonement. We differ, however, over whether the call to salvation is conditional or unconditional. I hope that fairly demonstrates the views of both Arminians and Calvinists regarding the atonement and election.
Here is a great post by Dr. Roger Olson on the subject of unlimited atonement. He makes a good argument here that the Calvinist attacks on Arminianism about our view regarding the atonement of Christ is unfair.
You can read his post here.
Esteemed Arminian theologian Richard Watson offers five points regarding the extent of the atonement and the use of the word “world” and the Calvinist argument that the word means “the elect out of the world.” Watson gives the following points:
It is equally impracticable to restrict the phrases, the world, the whole world, and to paraphrase them the world of the elect: and yet there is no other alternative; for either the whole world means those elected out of it; or else Christ died in an equal sense for every man. God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, &c. Here, if the world mean not the elect only, but every man, then every man was so loved by God, that he gave his own Son for his redemption. To say that the world, in a few places, means the Roman empire, and in others Judea, is nothing to the purpose, unless it were meant to affirm, that the elect were the people of Judea, or those of the Roman empire only. It proves, it is true, a hyperbolical use of the term in both instances; but this cannot be urged in the case before us: for,
1. The elect are never called the world in Scripture; but are distinguished from it. I have chosen you out of the world; therefore the world hateth you.
2. The common division of mankind, in the New Testament, is only into two parts; the disciples of Christ, and the world. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own. Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
3. When the redemption of Christ is spoken of, it often includes both those who had been chosen out of the world, and those who remained still of the world. And you hath he reconciled, say the apostles to those that had already believed; and as to the rest, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed to us the word of reconciliation, plainly that they might beseech this world to be reconciled to God: so that both believers and unbelievers were interested in the reconciling ministry, and the work of Christ. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only; but also for the sins of the whole world: words cannot make the case plainer than these, since this same writer, in the same epistle, makes it evident bow he uses the term world, when he affirms that the world lieth in wickedness, in contradistinction to those who knew that they were of GOD.
4. In the general commission before quoted, the expression world is connected with universal terms which carry it forth into its utmost latitude of meaning. Go ye into ALL the world, and preach the Gospel (the good news) to every creature; and this too in order to his believing it, that he may be saved; he that believeth shall be saved; and he that believeth not (this good news preached to him that he might be saved) shall be damned.
5. All this is confirmed from the gross absurdity of this restricted interpretation when applied to several of the foregoing passages. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoso. ever believeth in him should not perish. Now, if the world here means the elect world, or the elect not yet called out of it, then it is affirmed, that whosoever, of this elect body, believeth shall not perish; which plainly implies, that some of the elect might not believe, and therefore perish, contrary to their doctrine. This absurd consequence is still clearer from the verses which immediately follow. John iii, 17, 18, For God sent not his Son into the world, to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already. Now here we must take the term world, either extensively for all mankind or limitedly for the elect. If the former, then all men through him may be saved, but only through faith: he therefore, of this world that believeth may be saved; but he of this world that believeth not is condemned already. The sense is here plain and consistent; but if, on the other hand, we take the world to mean the elect only, then he of this elect world that believeth may be saved, and he of the elect world that believeth not is condemned; so that the restricted interpretation necessarily supposes, that elect persons may remain in unbelief, and be lost. The same absurdity will follow from a like interpretation of the general commission. Either all the world and every creature, mean every man, or the elect only. If the former, it follows, that he of this world, any individual among those included in the phrase, every creature, who believes, shall be saved, or, not believing, shall be damned: if the latter, then he of the elect, any individual of the elect, who believes, shall be saved, and any individual of the elect who believes not, shall be damned. Similar absurdities might be brought out from other passages; but if these are candidly weighed, it will abundantly appear, that texts so plain and explicit cannot be turned into such Consequences by any true method of interpretation, and that they must, therefore, be taken in their obvious sense, which unequivocally expresses the universality of the atonement.