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Abstract

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part II: The Crystallization of the Theology of Grace

Chapter 8

Limited Atonement

      The concept of Limited Atonement is perhaps the one point of the Five Points of Calvinism about which controversy among those who otherwise hold firmly to the Calvinist position has had the most serious consequences. It is argued that there are far too many passages in Scripture that speak clearly of the universality of the love of God to justify the view that the Atonement was limited in its intention to a chosen few. And we cannot honestly and sincerely present the Gospel to the world at large unless we are convinced that God really desires the salvation of all men equally.
     
Such a verse as John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish," is surely without limitation in its implication. And such passages as those which speak of Christ as the "Saviour of the world" (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14), or "the Saviour of all men" (1 Timothy 4:10), or as the one who gave Himself to be "a propitiation for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2), or which affirm that He is "the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life unto the world" (John 6:33, 51), are so all-embracing as to defy the concept of a sacrifice confined in its efficacy only to the elect of God while the vast majority of men are passed by. Statements like these, and there are many others, appear to prohibit placing limitations upon the intrinsic worth of that sacrifice or upon its intention in application.
     
Yet there are reasons to believe that another interpretation is possible, if not indeed more likely, both for these passages and others of a similar nature. That the Lord Jesus Christ should die for all, while only some avail themselves of his sacrifice, is surely to make a provision far greater than is required. It constitutes a kind of divine extravagance which seems inappropriate in view of the appalling nature of the penalty paid in his own Person by the Lord Jesus. In the nature of the case the Father must have foreseen that the sacrifice of his Son would effectively have only limited application. It would seem only appropriate to make the payment limited accordingly: limited punishment to balance limited crime. The Lord Jesus enunciated this principle Himself when He said that the man whose offenses

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were few was to receive few stripes, whereas the man whose offenses were great was to receive many (Luke 12:47, 48). It is customary to say that the Lord's sacrifice was sufficient for all, but efficient only for those who avail themselves of it. But to many people even this appears to be an evasion of the problem, a mere play upon words.
     
However, a careful reading of what Scripture does say about those for whom Christ died reinforces the impression that He did actually bear only the sins of his people, 'You shall call his name Jesus for He shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). "The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep" (John 10:11). Apparently, He did not give his life for the goats who constitute the other class of mankind in the Day of Judgment (Matthew 25:32, 33). "Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it" (Ephesians 5:25). Certainly the implications here are clear enough; yet the argument is still essentially a negative one. It might yet be true that He gave Himself for us, while still dying for other men also.
     
But it has to be admitted that the extent to which Scripture seems to go out of its way to avoid inclusive statements when speaking specifically of those for whom Christ died is certainly remarkable. Writing to the Galatians, Paul is very specific when he says: "He gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us" (1:4). And again in Galatians 3:13: "Being made a curse for us," to the end that "we might receive the adoption of sons" (4:5).
     
Similarly, Peter wrote: "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24), a picture reflecting Isaiah 53:5: "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by his stripes we are healed." To the Roman Christians Paul wrote: "He was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:25).
     
In writing to Titus, Paul said: "He gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a special people" (Titus 2:14). The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews said, "By Himself He purged our sins" (Hebrews 1:3), "having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:12). And in 1 John 4:9: "In this was manifest the love of God towards us because God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him." Notice here that John does not say that God sent his Son into the world that the world might live through Him. And as John records the Lord's prayer in Gethsemane we read the significant words, "I pray not for the world but for those You gave Me" (John 17:9). Note also in Titus 2:14, quoted above, that the selective process had a well-defined objective, not to redeem the world but to create a special people (1 Peter 2:9 also) for a special purpose, who were to be kept from the world, though not taken out of it (John 17:15). The people of God are left in the world not in the hope of converting it to Christ but (like salt) to preserve the world from total

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corruption (Matthew 5:13), or like a small lamp to keep the world from being enveloped in total darkness (Matthew 5:14).
     
Now while the Lord said that the world as a whole "lies in the wicked one" (1 John 5:19), He also revealed that the elect of God, even before they came to Himself to be his sheep, did not lie in the wicked one but already belonged to the Father. Of these who were to be his true disciples, Jesus said to the Father: "Yours they were, and You gave them to Me. . ." (John 17:6). Such indeed is the implication also of John 8:47 addressed to those who the Lord well knew were not destined to become his sheep: "You therefore hear not [God's words] because you are not God's." By contrast in Acts 18:10 God said to Paul when he went to Corinth, that most wanton of ancient cities: "I am with you and no man shall set on you to hurt thee for I have much people in this city." These elect individuals though yet unsaved were nevertheless already in the Father's possession, purchased in anticipation. Those who were not in the Father's possession would not hear the Lord's voice because they were not his sheep, and therefore they did not come to Him for salvation. Conversion does not appear to turn goats into sheep. It is only sheep of other folds that are yet to be brought in as his possession (John 10:16). Ambrose was surely right when he exclaimed, "If you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you." Christ died for no one in vain.
     
Would it be proper to speak of the Lord's victory as a triumph if 80 percent of the people for whom He supposedly died repudiated that sacrifice? Yet if Arminianism is true and the intent of the Atonement was unlimited, it would follow that millions for whom Christ died are lost and the salvation of God was enormously overpaid. Since far more appear to be lost than are saved (Matthew 22:14), the greater part of the Lord's suffering for man's sins was to no purpose. This is surely a poor semblance of triumph.
     
On the other hand, if Christ died for all, then God is either unwilling to apply that sufficiency, or He is unable to do so. If He is unwilling, then what are we to do with many contrary statements in Scripture which assure us that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked? "Have I any pleasure that the wicked should die? said the Lord God. . . .  I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies, saiys the Lord God" (Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11). If on the other hand He is unable, He is clearly not sovereign in the midst of his own creation. If He has some other plan, hidden from us at the present, which if we did but know it would explain why his intention was limited, then we may safely wait upon Him in the certainty that in due course we shall see that the Judge of all the earth has after all done what is right.

    Now the passages usually brought to the defense of the universalistic view are all, as we shall see, capable of a different interpretation. Meanwhile

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it may be asked, Is there any passage of Scripture which can be taken unequivocally to mean that God has deliberately undertaken not to extend his saving grace to certain people who, if that grace had been extended to them, would have responded affirmatively? It appears that there is such a passage. Augustine (Enchiridion, Chap. 103) has this observation: "The Lord was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, He said frankly, would have repented if He had worked them." The passage to which Augustine made reference is Matthew 11:20, 21, where it is written: "Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done because they repented not: Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." It is difficult to evaluate such a pregnant statement as this without concluding that an immeasurable benefit was at one period deliberately withheld from a group of people who would apparently have gladly accepted it had it been offered to them. Yet we may possibly have some light even on such a mystery as this from other parts of Scripture.
     
We know that Nineveh repented (Jonah 3:5 ff.), as the result of Jonah's preaching, and yet its people were Gentiles and can hardly be supposed to have partaken of the covenant which God had made with Israel. We are not told that Nineveh was actually saved, only that it was spared (Jonah 4:11). Its doom was merely postponed, though its fate was sealed and in due course it was virtually wiped from the face of the earth.
     
It seems that Tyre and Sidon might have been spared also had they witnessed the miracles which the Jews witnessed, and such a genuine repentance by a community with its attendant postponement of impending judgment has probably been more common throughout history than we have recognized. Such sparing does not seem to mean salvation: it signifies only a temporary reprieve as an expression of what has been called the Common Grace of God.
     
Thus such passages as 2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slack concerning his promises as some men count slackness; but is long suffering towards us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" may signify that God is indeed prepared to give man every possible chance of reprieve in this life by delaying judgment whenever man shows concern even though such concern is not divinely inspired and does not produce saving faith. Such delays are as though God Himself shares something of our concern for men who are lost even when He knows they are not to be among the elect. Perhaps it is the children involved who are his special concern, even as Jonah 4:11 seems to imply: "And shall I not spare Nineveh, that great city wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right and their left hand, and much cattle?"
     
Such sparing acts of God are expressions of a mercy which He commonly

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bestows upon all men alike. As Matthew 5:45 tells us: "He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." In Acts 14:15-17 we find Paul and Barnabas saying: "Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God who made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." So also in Psalm 145:9: "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works."
     
Now Augustine held that God, having from all eternity elected some to everlasting life, had special reference to their salvation only when He covenanted with the Son to make atonement. Subsequently Lutherans and Calvinists agreed as to the worth of the Atonement but came to differ as to its design. While Augustine and Calvin maintained that it was designed only for the elect, Luther maintained that it had equal reference to all mankind individually. Charles Hodge observed that what Christ suffered would have been just as necessary if only one human soul had been the object of redemption, yet nothing more would have been required had every child of Adam been redeemed. (1) It was Augustine who, with his characteristic genius for abbreviated statement of truth, gave us the couplet "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect only." Following his insight many others have sought to give expression to the same thought in different ways. It is possible to tabulate these different modes of expression somewhat as follows by saying that the Lord's sacrifice was

 potentially infinite  but   actually limited
 unlimited in value  but   limited in intention
 infinite in worth  but   finite in application
 limitless as to its capacity  but   limited in its effect
 unlimited atonement  but   limited redemption

     Not all these alternative expressions are precisely the same in implication. There is virtually universal agreement as to the value of the Lord's Atonement being infinite, but it makes a difference whether we oppose to this the doctrine that it was limited in intention or limited in effect. The difference lies in this, that while God's intention may or may not have been limited, since this is really the point at issue, the actual effect was indeed limited by man's wide rejection of it about which there cannot be any disagreement. The crux of the matter then is summed up in the question: "What was God's intention?"

1. Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1973 reprint, vol. II, p.545.

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     The Calvinist position is that in the beginning the Father and the Son entered into a covenant in which the Son undertook to pay the price of ensuring that man's creation as a free moral agent would not fail in its purpose of bringing glory to God, while the Father would guarantee the effectiveness of the Son's atoning sacrifice by exercising his Sovereign Grace to apply the Atonement effectively to an appropriate number of individuals, the elect. Thus his sacrifice would not be in vain. These elect given by the Father to the Son would in due time without fail be brought to a saving faith. The Lord would thus see the travail of his soul and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11), and his table would be completely furnished with guests, in the words of Matthew 22:10. The elect were therefore chosen in Him from the very beginning.
      The Westminster Confession (III.6) makes this declaration:

     They who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called into faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any others redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

      It will be apparent that the Reformers in the Calvinist tradition were very positive in their assertion of Limited Atonement. Yet they also recognized that because the Lord Jesus Christ was not only man but God also, the worth of his sacrifice is accordingly infinite and fully sufficient for the sins of all men. The formulators of the Anglican Prayer Book demonstrated that they recognized this by introducing into the communion service a prayer which speaks of the Lord's sacrifice as "a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." The real question at issue here is not, then, Was his sacrifice sufficient for all? but rather, Was his sacrifice actually intended for all? On this question, as we have seen, there came to be a critical division of opinion, both sides appealling to Scripture and believing themselves to be clearly guided by it. Yet the issue probably cannot be settled simply by an appeal to the Word of God: it must be settled rather by implications from the Word of God, implications which are drawn from its statements by the exercise of sanctified reason and which, although it may not be possible to find precise proof texts, are nevertheless in no way contradicted by other statements of Scripture, the meaning of which is unequivocal.
     
Now it must be admitted that there are a number of passages in the New Testament, and a few in the Old, which appear to substantiate the view that the Atonement was unlimited both in extent and intent. It is on the basis of these passages that an increasing number of evangelicals, beginning with Arminius, began to teach that God must have covenanted with his Son to make an Atonement not merely for the sins of the elect but also for all men

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indiscriminately. Such passages do not mean that all men will be saved but that all men could be saved if they would, that it was God's initial intention that their salvation should be genuinely possible. The Atonement made by the Lord Jesus Christ was sufficient for all men (with which the Calvinists would agree wholeheartedly) and was intended for all men if they should desire it (with which Calvinists could not agree). Calvinists disagreed with this for two reasons.
     
First of all, the view that Christ's sacrifice was intended for all would make much of that sacrifice pointless since so many do not in fact avail themselves of it; the triumph of the cross is fatally diminished if only a fragment of its original intention is actually to be realized. If, on the contrary, Christ died only for the sins of the elect of God and not for those that are lost, the victory of the cross is total in terms of its intentions. It is hard to believe Satan has been allowed largely to defeat God's intentions. Christ did not die to make the salvation of all men possible; He died to make the salvation of the elect certain, and this will be demonstrated in due time. None of them will be lost (John 6:39, 40 and 10:2729). Such is the basis of our assurance of eternal security. There was no limit to the worth of his Atonement, but in God's intention there was to be no waste either. The Lord did all that was necessary for the salvation of an elect number whose response was guaranteed by the Father. The original design was and will be entirely fulfilled. The Lord's victory is complete. The completeness of this victory is not dependent upon man's natural inclination to respond to the offer of salvation but upon God's Sovereign Grace in conferring upon the elect the necessary saving faith.
     
Secondly, the view that Christ's sacrifice was intended for all could be interpreted to mean that all men will automatically be saved whether they believe or not, since all men indiscriminately would already have had the penalty for their sins atoned for and would not therefore be called upon to suffer any penalty themselves. It is a principle of law in the civilized world that a man cannot be held accountable for a debt which has already been paid by someone else on his behalf and to the full satisfaction of the offended party. But this is precisely what unlimited atonement would involve. For if the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sins of every man in particular to the satisfaction of the Father, then every man in particular, regardless of his attitude towards that payment and whether he believes or does not believe, is ipso facto rid of his debt. In the eyes of the law he is absolved. It cannot be demanded of him that he also by punishment hereafter pay the debt a second time. He cannot be accused of owing anything. The only reason for such an accusation by a court would be ignorance of the fact that the debt has already been paid or deliberate deception by the accuser. In the final Judgment no such contingencies could ever arise because the Judge is the Lord Himself, the same who has already paid our

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debt (Romans 8:34). Although it has not hitherto been used as a theological term, one might say that there can be no double jeopardy. A penalty cannot legally be demanded twice.
     
Let us state this principle once again. No man can be held accountable for a debt that has already been paid for on his behalf to the satisfaction of the offended party. But a double jeopardy, a duplication of indebtedness, is indeed involved if the non-elect are to be punished for sins for which the Lord Jesus Christ has already endured punishment. And this is what un-limited atonement means if interpreted in the universalistic sense that Christ died for the sins of all men. It follows therefore that if the unsaved are to be punished, the Lord cannot also have been punished substitutionally on their account.
     
Now it is not logically possible that the Lord might have died for the non-elect or might not have died for the non-elect as though it were a "potential" dying only, the issue to be settled by subsequent events. He either did die for the non-elect or He did not. If He did, the deed is done whether it is applied or not applied. If it is not applied and men are to be punished, we have a double liability involved. If it is to be applied, then all men are saved automatically. If, on the other hand, the Lord Jesus Christ did not die for all men individually, then it cannot be done now. It is too late. The body of Jesus Christ was offered only once (Hebrews 10:10).
     
It is thus consistent for us to define our faith simply by use of the term Limited Atonement. We should not at the same time attempt to emphasize it by saying what it is not. We should rather stay close to Scripture, which makes it so very clear that the Lord died for the sins of his people, of the sheep. We are not told more than this. There are passages of Scripture which seem to say more than this, but as we shall see they may not really be doing so. Most of the expressions which have been set forth should probably be used with great care on this account, since they could be an invitation to a serious error. Logically they may be convincing enough, but scripturally they may go beyond the truth. We can safely say only that the Lord's sacrifice had limited efficacy in so far as it has had limited application.
     
Whether it is intended or not by those who adopt the thesis in their preaching that "Christ died for the sins of all men," the logical consequence is a simple Universalism "all men will be saved." And Universalism makes preaching the Gospel almost pointless, for the most that can be hoped is that a few individuals will respond in thankfulness as the one leper who was healed did (Luke 17:15-17). Such a sense of thankfulness will certainly be beneficial, but in terms of destiny it will make no difference. The other nine lepers are assured that they are free to do precisely what they like without fear of judgment to come or personal consequence from their action. It

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would be better not to preach such a Gospel as this. It is only because we are not logical so much of the time that we are saved from such ill effects.
     
It is thus clear that the Lord can have died only for those who have been predestined not to have to suffer the penalty of their own sins. Since this does not apply to any but the elect and since we cannot know beforehand who is elect and who is not, we cannot tell, when we are face-to-face with an individual, whether that individual is chosen to respond or will be permitted to refuse, and it is clearly improper to say, "Christ died for you." Indeed this form of statement is nowhere to be found in any of the sermons recorded in Scripture (Acts 2:14 ff.; 3:1226; 4:812; 5:2932; 7:253; 10:3443: 13:1641; 17:2232; 22:121), and does not correctly represent the Gospel. We can safely say to a man only something like, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15); or "God has made Him who knew no sin to be a sin-offering for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him"
(2 Cornthians 5:21). It would not even be correct to paraphrase this last passage by replacing the words "for us" with the words "for you," and the words "that we might be" with the words "that you might be." Yet I have heard it done. This cannot be said by one man to another truthfully because we do not have God's knowledge of which men are elect. We can only quote Scripture faithfully and leave the results to God.
      In the Canons of Dort (III-lV.9) we are told that, in the Gospel, Christ is offered. But in III-IV.14 we are told that salvation is not offered, it is conferred. The Gospel is offered but salvation is not. It seems appropriate to quote this Article in full.

      Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him, breathed and infused into him; not even because God bestows the power or ability to believe and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ, but because He who works in man both to will and to work, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also.

     Now this apparent conflict that in preaching the Gospel we offer Christ, while salvation is not offered but conferred, seems to be resolved (as Hoeksema observes) by noting that the Latin of Article 9 indicates that "offering" Christ means presenting or showing Him. (2) In short, there is no question of saying Christ died for you, but only of declaring that Christ died as a sacrifice for sin. Preaching the Gospel is not to be equated with giving an invitation but with making a declaration. The elect will hear this declaration

2. See G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics Divine Election, translated by Hugo Bekker, Grand Rapids, Eerdman's, 1958, p.222.  

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as an invitation; to the non-elect it will come as a judgment which leaves them without excuse.
     
Meanwhile, true preaching of the Gospel is something done under divine compulsion. When Paul says, "Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16), he uses a very forceful word in the original Greek () when he speaks of necessity. One might properly have translated it "absolute compulsion." When God thus determines that the Gospel shall be preached, it is only because He has also predetermined that it shall bear fruit (for life or death) as He foreordains. The "tool" is his Word, the agent is his servant, the results are in his own hands.

     That the Atonement itself is limited in its effect is not disputed by either Calvinists or Arminians. What is in dispute is the intent, not the extent, of the Atonement. And on this dispute hinges an important consideration. For if God's intention was limited, we do not know why He was pleased to limit it and are apt to suppose on the basis of human reason alone that the love of God is also limited, and this we find disturbing.
     
This issue regarding the extent of God's love was a truly basic point of disagreement between Arminius and the strict Calvinists of his day. It is not desirable to enter here into the clash of personalities at the time which undoubtedly contributed to the hardening of battle lines between the two parties, Calvinists and Arminians. Suffice it to say that Limited Atonement became an issue because it led to the belief in certain quarters that if the sacrifice of Christ was intended only for a select minority of the human race, the majority of men were being predestinated to eternal punishment unfairly; and God emerged as a despotic sovereign whose indifference to the fate of the non-elect seemed to stand in clear violation of a number of passages of Scripture which speak of his love for mankind as a whole. How could God so love the world that He would allow his only begotten Son to sacrifice Himself for it and then limit that sacrifice to a few while He predestinated the many to reprobation? *

* We are here in the presence of a very difficult question The two sides to this question have customarily been treated under the terms Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism. Supralapsarianism means that before the Fall, and indeed before the creation of man, God predestined man to SIN. Infralapsarianism means that after man fell, God predestined him to reprobation. It seems to be largely a matter of timing, but the problem is more serious.
     
Did God decide that man should fall and, thereby, Himself become the author of sin, or did He merely on the basis of foreknowledge determine that, having fallen, man was destined to reprobation? Did He, in short, ordain sin before man fell or ordain only reprobation after man fell? The first is evidence of absolute sovereignty, the latter of complete foreknowledge. The first is more an act of sovereignty than justice, the latter of justice than sovereignty. Sovereignty is challenged in the latter because it means that man was not predetermined by God to fall of his own free will. Since the fact that man was not predetermined to fall but indeed did fall appears to defeat the purposes of God, it seems that man rather than God is sovereign in this matter. For if God were sovereign in this matter, the reasoning goes, He would not have allowed it. Is God more just than sovereign in this case? (cont'd. . . . )

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 (*cont'd) In Supralapsarianism, the Fall and sin are ordained means to the fulfillment of God's purposes; in Infralapsariansim, the Fall and sin are merely permitted factors in the fulfillment of his purpose.
     
The issue seems to boil down to this. Did God create a situation in which his sovereignty had to be surrendered in allowing man to decide for himself, or is God the author of sin? There cannot be two sovereign wills. If in this matter, man is truly free to decide whether to obey or not, then all else hinges on man's decision, not God's. If God is determined to have his will obeyed, did He not then authorize Adam to disobey in which case did Adam really disobey at all?
     
When the Lord was speaking to the disciples, He said, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). By contrast when men are condemned in the Judgment they are sent to a place that was not prepared for them. In Matthew 25:41 the Lord said to these men, "Depart from Me, you cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels " These two antithetical statements, antithetical in so far as the destiny of the blessed was prepared for them but the destiny of the cursed was not prepared for them, may afford some grounds for arguing against Supralapsarianism. If men are predestined to be saved, one might expect a corresponding place of destiny to be prepared. That the place of destiny of the non-elect was not prepared for them, "but for the devil and his angels," that at least for man such a destiny was not foreordained. Whatever may be the order of events relative to the devil and his angels, and whether they were predestined to fall before they were created, we have no clear intimation from Scripture and the idea seems repugnant. But the place of punishment for the non-elect is statedly a kind of emergency, make-do arrangement, serving a purpose which it was not originally designed to serve. 

     Jesus Christ, it was argued, is revealed in Scripture as having died for all men, the saved and the unsaved alike. The difference between the saved and the unsaved as to their destiny was not the result of a narrow atonement which passed the unsaved by but a broad atonement which they themselves neglected to make use of. It was intended for them but it was never appropriated. The fault lay with them, and not with the Saviour. Those who reasoned in this way held that to view the situation in any other light was really to make God the author of unbelief and reprobation.
     
Arminius at first seems to have held the Calvinist position of Beza, whom he greatly admired but whose theology he finally found unacceptable. Beza's position was that if God elected some men to salvation, He must automatically have elected others to reprobation. This is not a logical deduction, however, for it can be argued with equal force that man elects himself to reprobation by freely choosing to neglect the salvation which is offered to him. For the majority of men, the many who are not chosen (Matthew 20:16), it is not necessary for God to act determinatively. He needs only to permit them to have their own way. He respects their freedom of choice and passes them by. The choice is made freely in that it truly represents fallen man's natural inclination.
     
For all his acuity of reasoning, Beza never seems to have been able to recognize that Election to Salvation for a few whose wills have been set free from within is perfectly compatible with granting to the rest of mankind freedom to go their own way. Double Predestination is not necessary. Calvin in his younger days committed himself to Double Predestination by

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saying: "Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election but deny that anyone is reprobated. This they do ignorantly and childishly since there can be no election without its opposite, reprobation" (Institutes, III.xxiii.1). Curiously he sought to reinforce this dismal doctrine by a reference to Matthew 15:13: "Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up." Calvin then comments that the Lord's hearers are here "plainly told that all whom the heavenly Father has not been pleased to plant in his garden are doomed and devoted to destruction."
     
Far from demonstrating Double Predestination, which would require, by analogy, that the Father would not only root up these reprobate weeds, but had also been responsible for planting them in the first place, this passage of Scripture says precisely the opposite: they were not planted by the Father at all. But as already noted, Calvin seems to have softened his views on this issue in his later years.
     
Beza succeeded to Calvin's mantle of authority when the latter died and seems to have hardened his position on this issue, becoming himself perhaps the most ultra-Calvinist of the time. He insisted that the reprobate were as predestinated to be lost as the elect were to be saved: that they were not merely permitted to go their own way, but were willed of God in this direction. To Beza it seemed inevitable that if God predestined them to be lost, He clearly did not covenant with his Son to die for them. This latter deduction seemed to be common sense and it appears that Arminius accepted it at first, and embraced the corollary of a Limited Atonement. But in due course for reasons which we do not need to consider here, Arminius came to feel uncomfortable about certain implications of Limited Atonement, namely, that God's love is not universal unless the intention of the Atonement was universal. God's love would appear to be limited by the intention of the Atonement since the Atonement was in the final analysis the real demonstration of the scope of God's love (1 John 3:16). If we know that He loved us because He gave Himself for us, must we not assume that He did not love the rest of mankind if He did not give Himself for them?
     
When we say that reactions against Beza's persistence in holding to Double Predestination had the effect of hardening his position, we are in effect saying that Beza's mind and powers of logical analysis became separated from all feeling. Unlike Calvin, who softened his position later, recognizing that our finite minds can drive us to extremes, Beza did not pause in his pursuit of logic. Both Calvin and Luther did, recognizing that human logic may break down and that mind needs to be monitored by heart. Arminius went to the other extreme and allowed his heart to warp his powers of logic, so that in the end he found himself convinced by his own heart to adopt a position regarding man's capacity of response to the love of God which was logically inconsistent and yet which he attempted to defend by logical

     pg.12 of 26   


means. He agreed wholeheartedly that man's salvation is wholly of God and that man contributes nothing by way of good works towards it. When asked, "Why does one man respond to the love of God but not another?" he replied, "Because that man has grace enough to do so, while the other man has not."
     
"Whence comes this grace?"
     
Arminius replied, "From God."
     
"Then why does not God give that grace to the other man?"
     
Arminius replied, "He does, but the other man refuses it."
     
And here is the crux of the matter. For it is necessary to assume either that the one man has an element of goodness which the other does not (which Arminius denied), or that God's love does not extend to both men equally (which Arminius also denied). His theology gradually became inconsistent and logically indefensible.
     
Once the set of his mind began to be freed from the compulsion of Beza's logic, Arminius appears to have become increasingly aware that there are a number of passages of Scripture favouring the broader view of God's love to all men. But Romans 9:13 ("Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated") faced him with the fact that God did not love all men equally. In the end he resolved this problem to his own satisfaction in a way that is rather interesting. He recognized that the majority of men do not accept the salvation of God, but this did not seem to him to require the assumption that prior to their rejection God did not love them. He resolved the question of Jacob and Esau by suggesting that Jacob represented all who believe and accept God's salvation and Esau all who reject God's salvation. The love of God is extended towards all those therefore who have not actually rejected his salvation. Once an individual has irrevocably rejected the love of God, the love of God is no longer extended towards him and, by contrast with Jacob, that man stands in the position of Esau. But if God loves all men prior to their rejection of his salvation, then must He not have prospectively provided a sufficient Atonement for all men in order that the offer of salvation may be made to them sincerely? And thus there arose within the Reformation movement a growing body of evangelical believers (for Arminius had many secret supporters) who rejected the concept of Limited Atonement and favoured its antithesis, the concept of the universality of God's love for the world and the provisional Universality of the Atonement.
     
The fact that man is saved purely by the grace of God and apart from any works of his own was not really being questioned. For these dissenting minds, the part which man plays involves only a willingness to accept, a spirit of non-resistance. But neither Arminius nor any of those who have followed in the Arminian tradition have ever really been able to resolve the problem of how it is that some men resist the love of God and some do not. Yet Arminius held firmly to the view that until the resistance is final, the

     pg.13 of 26     

love of God reaches out to them still. Scriptural support for the universality of God's love and, as a corollary the unlimited intent of the Atonement, is based upon a number of passages of Scripture which must now be examined carefully.

     It is appropriate to start with 1 Timothy 2:1-6 because the statement is both sweeping and apparently unequivocal. In order to establish a context it is desirable to quote the whole six verses, which in the King James Version read as follows:

     I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.

     We are, therefore, exhorted to pray for all men. And yet we know from John 17:9 that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself deliberately refrained from praying for all men, "I pray for them [the chosen few]: I pray not for the world but for them You have given Me." It is of course perfectly true that the Lord Jesus knew who were to be the sheep of his flock even before they became part of his inner circle of disciples, and He also knew the spiritual battle which lay ahead for them all. It might therefore be argued that He prayed for them specifically, and not for the world, for this very reason. But are we being called upon to engage our prayer life on behalf of all men indiscriminately? Would this not so dilute our prayers as to be meaningless and ineffective? To pray for everyone is really to pray for nobody.
     
It seems more likely that the phrase "for all men" should be translated more selectively to read "for all sorts of men." Such a translation is perfectly consonant with the original Greek, for the word all frequently has the less inclusive meaning of "all kinds of," or "all manner of." The simple form pas () is translated "all manner of" in the following places, all of which provide a more precise definition of its meaning:

 Matthew 4:23  --"all manner of disease"
 Matthew 5:11  --"all manner of evil"
 Matthew 10:1  --"all manner of sickness"
 Luke 11:42  --"all manner of herbs"
 Acts 10:12  --"all manner of four-footed beasts"
 Romans 7:8  --"all manner of concupiscence"
 1 Peter 1:15  --"all manner of conversation"
 Revelation 21:19  --"all manner of precious stone"

     pg.14 of 26     

     If Mark 3:28 is compared with Matthew 12:31, which has reference to the same occasion, it will be observed that the all of Mark appears in Matthew as all manner of, though in both the same Greek word is used. Either translation is therefore perfectly legitimate,
     
The point scarcely needs labouring. Every lexicon of New Testament Greek and of Classical Greek agrees upon the validity of the expanded translation. Thayer*, for example, gives a number of references by way of illustration and adds this comment: "So especially with nouns designating virtues or vices, customs, characters, conditions, etc." On numerous occasions it greatly illuminates the text to convert the simple "all" (whether of things or men) into "all kinds of" or some such alternative. No special pleading is involved. For example, Mark 11:32 tells us that "all men counted that John was a prophet" but obviously only people aware of what was going on could have been intended. In John 8:2 we are told that "all people came to Him" but we know the Pharisees did not do so. In both cases it would be more appropriate to say "all kinds of" people.
     
In Romans 5:18 Paul wrote: "Therefore, as by the offense 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 it stands we might be forced to conclude that every man is condemned in Adam but every man is justified in Christ: every man, without exception. All are lost, all are saved. Both these all need to be understood in the same way to justify the sentence structure. Since only some men come "unto justification of life" we are driven to conclude that what Paul intended by his words was not that all men are both condemned and justified but rather that, as all kinds of men have suffered the penalty of Adam's disobedience, so all kinds of men have benefited from the rewards of Christ's obedience.
     
Romans 14:2 tells us how one man "believes that he may eat all things" whereas another eats only herbs. The obvious intention of the passage is that some men allow themselves meat as well as herbs whereas others avoid meat. But a subservience to a strictly inclusive interpretation of the word all would require us to assume that the first individual would eat absolutely anything, an unreasonable assumption.
     
In writing to Titus (2:11) Paul declares that "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." It is almost certain that this would more appropriately be rendered "to all sorts of men." Calvin wrote on this passage as follows: "The apostle simply means that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation, because God wishes that the Gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. The present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons." (3) It is important to remember that in Paul's time slaves had no status whatever. They were not even counted as

* Thayer, J. H., English-Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1901.
3. Calvin: The Pastoral Epistles, p. 55.

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persons. There may have been new Christians to whom it had scarcely occurred that the Gospel was also to be preached to slaves.
     
Thus in 1 Timothy 6:10, while it is doubtful if the love of money could be the root of all evil such as blindness due to accident in childhood it certainly is the root of all kinds of evil. And in John 12:32, unless we assume that the Universalists are right, it is more reasonable to read the text: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw * all kinds of men unto Me."
     When John 1:7 tells us that John the Baptist was sent as a witness to the Light which is Christ, in order that all men might believe, we are surely nearer to an understanding of what this means if we read it as "that all sorts of men might believe," the "all sorts and conditions of men" of the Anglican Prayer Book. The principle may very well be reflected in the familiar promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that in him "should all the families of the earth be blessed."
     
Augustine in his Enchiridion (Chap. 103) wrote about such passages as these. He said:

     We are to understand by "all men" the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstance kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor; and those of moderate circumstances, males, females, infants [note!], boys, youth; young, middle-aged and old men: of every tongue, of every nation, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and consciousness, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men.

     Perhaps we still need to be reminded of this. Some men we think too good or too high; and perhaps if we did but understand sufficiently, we might include imbeciles whom we now tend to neglect in this respect. And precisely what did the Lord act upon when He healed lunatics? 

* The word draw in this passage is a strong one. According to Moulton and Milligan (Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament), the Greek term helko or helkuo has almost the sense of dragging by force. It is used of hauling bricks, of towing, of dragging along, and even in connection with impressing people as labourers. Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1901) says it is used of dragging people, as when Paul is dragged into the market place (Acts 16 19) or out of the Temple (Acts 21: 30). John uses it in 18:10 of drawing a sword, and in 21:6 and 11 of failure and then success in dragging a net. James 2:6 uses it in the sense of dragging the poor before a judge. In the Septuagint the use follows very much along the same lines. Obviously there is something here much stronger than the mere attractiveness of a sweet personality, and it is significant that even in John l2:32 the same word is employed "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me."
     
The mere presentation of the drama of Calvary, no matter how effectively or appealingly it is made, will not be enough to attract men, contrary to popular sentiment, there is a real sense in which sinners are not attracted to the cross but dragged to it. Such is the deadness of the human spirit.

     pg.16 of 26     


     So we may quite safely translate 1 Timothy 2:1 as an exhortation not to pray for all men indiscriminately, but rather that we should remember to pray for all sorts of people, not discriminating against any merely by reason of their station in life or any other distinguishing mark. In verse 2 Paul reinforces this alternative by saying that we should include kings and all in authority over us, a surprising exhortation, for at the time of writing Nero was the Emperor and an almost wholly corrupt hierarchy derived their authority from him.
     
If this much is allowed, then verse 4 becomes less all inclusive and more probable, when it tells us that God our Saviour "will have men of all sorts to be saved and come unto a knowledge of the truth."
     
It should also be noted that the words will have in this passage represent the more determinative verb thelo in the original, a verb which in many instances seems to be stronger than the alternative verb boulomai, from which it seems to be distinguished as representing intention rather than merely desire. It is as though God our Saviour does not merely desire that men from every class of society will come to acknowledge the truth but actually intends them to do so. The Body of Christ is to be made up in a truly representative way. Paul did not say "not any noble are called" but "not many" (1 Corinthians 1:26).
     
As though to reinforce this, Paul is inspired to write that there is only "one mediator between God and men" (verse 5): not one mediator for the high-born and another for the commoner, or one mediator for the free and another for the slave. Men of all sorts stand equal in the sight of God and a single mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, can make any one of them acceptable before God. And why? Because (verse 6) the same Lord Jesus gave Himself a ransom on behalf of the elect, no matter what class of society they come from.
     
We do not seem to be required to read this as an expression of the universality of God's love for all men indiscriminately. The wording can be reasonably understood in much more particular terms. But that such a translation is not found in modern versions tells us no more than that where two alternatives have equal validity the one chosen will almost certainly always be the one which best reflects the current climate of theological opinion. And that theological opinion today is undoubtedly universalistic in this sense, both among liberal humanistically oriented expositors and among evangelicals of Arminian persuasion. That God desires or would have all men to be saved is most assuredly assumed by virtually all modern translators. Yet I do not believe that this really reflects the mind of God as revealed elsewhere in Scripture.
     
But this does not mean that the opposite is true! As we have already noted, Scripture makes it clear that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked but would rather that men should turn from their wickedness and  

     pg.17 of 26     


live. Nevertheless, God is a realist and knows that men will not turn and live unless He turns them and to turn all men indiscriminately is simply to render meaningless Adam's original endowment of freedom of choice to good or to evil. Our problem is that we tend to equate our own sentiment with the strong love of God. As one older writer put it: "The love of God is without mercy." Unlike human love, the love of God is without partiality. Arminius was nearer to the truth than were some of his later followers when he limited the love of God to those who have not yet refused Him. We should remember Jehu, the son of Hanani, who rebuked King Jehoshaphat for "loving" a man who hated God (2 Chronicles 19:2).
     
In 2 Peter 3:9 we read: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise [i.e.,to return] as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Here, behind the words not willing we have the less determinate Greek verb boulomai; that is, "not being desirous that any should perish." There is a beautiful consistency here with Ezekiel 18:23: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways and live?" And verse 32 of this same passage reads: "For I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies, says the Lord God; wherefore repent ye and live." Thus God desires that men would come to repentance, and delays the coming Judgment not because He hopes for what He knows cannot be but because He is reluctant to bring to pass that which must be. The love of God and the pity of God are two different things.
     
Then we meet with another factor of importance in understanding the meaning of many passages which employ the verb rendered "to save" or some derivative of it. In 1 Timothy 4:10 it is written: "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe." The sentence structure here seems to require that we attach to the word Saviour the same implication for unbelievers as we do for them that believe. We know that He is indeed the Saviour of the latter. Is He then in the same sense also the Saviour of the former, of the "all men" of the text? Or is it that the word Saviour does not mean in this instance what it usually does in the context of saving faith?
     
The root verb here is sozo (), the meaning of which is either "to save" in the evangelistic sense or "to preserve" in the physical or physiological sense. Both meanings are found in the King James Version. Thus in 2 Timothy 4:18 Paul speaks of his confidence that the Lord will preserve him unto his heavenly kingdom. In 1 Timothy 2:15 Paul gives assurance that women will be preserved in childbearing, for such seems to be rather clearly his meaning. It is also quite possible that in 1 Timothy 4:16, the same alternative ought to be understood: "Take heed to yourself, and to the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this you shalt both preserve thyself  

     pg.18 of 26     


and them that hear you." It does not seem likely that Paul would commit to Timothy, who was already the Lord's child, the responsibility of saving himself. We meet with a similar situation in all probability in Mark 8:35 and 15:30 where the word preserve would possibly be more appropriate, for at that time it was a far more dangerous thing to stand for the Lord than it is in our society at the moment, and many people did not preserve their lives on account of their testimony. And perhaps this was Peter's intent when he said, "Preserve yourselves from this untoward generation" (Acts 2:40). James 5:20 may be another case in point: "Let him know that he who turns the sinner [a brother in the Lord, be it noted, from verse 19] from the error of his way shall preserve a soul from death. . ." And so, too, perhaps in James 5:15.
     
Even the Old Testament makes use of both renderings of this verb in the Septuagint Greek translation, as for example in Psalm 36:6: "O Lord, you preserve man and beast." It is clear that God does preserve his creatures as long as He can as an expression of his compassion as though like a merciful judge He postpones the passing of judgment. As Psalm 145:8 and 9 tells us: "The Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works." This is one aspect of his exercise of Common Grace. Perhaps Common Grace is an expression of God's pity for man, rather than his love. God was merciful to Esau but did not love him (Romans 9:13).
     
It is for this reason that we, his children, are called upon to pray for all men and to give thanks on their behalf unto God and the Father. Ephesians 5:20 has not received an altogether appropriate translation in either the King James Version or many modern versions, for we can hardly be expected to give thanks always for all things. Are we to give thanks, for example, for our own defeats, for our silence when we ought to speak for the Lord, for our own selfish enjoyments when we might instead have blessed others by our giving? Are we to give thanks for the appalling diseases that afflict innocent children in many parts of the world? Are we to give thanks for the prison camps in Russia of which Solzhenitsyn has written so eloquently? And what of a million and one other evils that result from carelessness, or indifference, or the sheer wickedness of men? The Christian is indeed counselled to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but surely not for everything.
     
If we should take this to mean that we are to give thanks on account of everything, the Greek of Ephesians 5:20 does not serve to establish this recommendation, for the preposition huper followed as it is here by the genitive does not mean "on account of" but "on behalf of". The thought behind this injunction is beautifully expressed in the Prayer of General Thanksgiving in the Anglican Prayer Book which reads: "Almighty and most merciful Father, we thine unworthy servants do give Thee most humble 

     pg.19 of 26     


and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving kindness to us and to all men. . . ." The word things in Ephesians 5:20 is an interpolation by the translators the word men would have been more appropriate. Certainly the words "on behalf of all men" is the clear intention of 2 Corinthians 5:14 where precisely the same construction occurs. Yet curiously, almost all modern translators have misunderstood the intent of Ephesians 5:20 and presented it as a call to give thanks for everything, improbable as such an injunction would be in a world like ours.
     Now there is a large group of passages which employ the word world (Greek: kosmos ).
It is widely agreed that this word often has the somewhat abstract meaning of "the human race" or "human species," and that to save the human species required only the saving of a sufficient number of members, not the saving of every member. There are not a few passages where such a key improves our understanding of the meaning.
     
It has been suggested that there are at least four different meanings to this word. It can mean (1) the natural order, (2) the arena of human history, (3) a segment of society, and (4) the human species. Let us examine these usages.
     (1) The natural order. In a passage such as John 1:10, "the world was made by Him," it seems clear enough that the creation is intended. It would not seem appropriate to consider this in the more confined sense of either human society (which is after all man-made) or even the human race, for the human race is fallen and not the race that God made. As C. S. Lewis rightly said, when man sinned he brought into being a human species which was not the species which God created.* It seems that in this case the word world means the natural order as a whole, for He was truly its Creator (Colossiams 1:16).

     
But in the same sentence (John 1:10) the words "the world knew Him not" must have a more restricted meaning. In view here is a segment of society at one particular point in time, the people who were the Lord's contemporaries when He walked this earth. Thus a single word in the original can have somewhat different meanings depending upon the context, even in a single sentence. When Acts 17:24 tells us that "[God] made the world and all things therein," we seem clearly to have a reference to the natural order at any period of time but in 2 Peter 3:4-7 we have a more restricted natural order, the old world, being replaced by an equally restricted natural order, the world that now exists.
     
(2) The arena of human history. In a passage such as Matthew 4:8, "all the kingdoms of the world," the reference is surely to the human scene, and would not include areas where man does not or has not lived (for example, the polar region), which are still nevertheless part of the "natural order." Indeed in the parallel passage in Luke 4:5 the statement is expressed slightly 

*Lewis, C. S., The Problem of Pain, New York, Macmillan, 1962, p.83, 85.

     pg.20 of 26     


differently by employing the Greek word oikoumene, meaning "the inhabited earth."
     
(3) A segment of society. John 1:10, where we find the words, "He was in the world," seems to have specific reference to the particular society to which Christ came in a special sense by being born as one of them. This was the world which did not recognize Him. It was a world which ought to have recognized Him because it was a segment of society which had received special preparation to this end.
     
(4) The human species. In John 3:16, 4:42, and in many other places, the meaning seems clearly to be the human race as a species, since it was to save this species from total self-destruction and loss that Christ came and offered Himself as a sacrifice. The suicidal nature of the human species has long been recognized as one of its most distinguishing marks as a species, setting it apart from all other animal species. Such is the effect of sin that virtually everything natural man plans to do in isolation or co-operatively with other men tends towards the destruction of the species. In the light of eternity the creation of the human species would have been a total tragedy but for the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. God sent his Son that He might save enough members of this species to preserve the species, and in this sense to become the Saviour of the "world."
     
Thus in seeking to understand the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:16 we have to take into account all these factors: that the word all has a number of shades of meaning which modify its universality; that the words will have, applied to God or man, may mean either intention or preference; that the word save often has the sense of preserving rather than redeeming; that the preposition for may mean either "on behalf of" or "on account of"; and that the word world has often the connotation of the human race as a whole, rather than every member of it individually. None of these alternatives are in any way exceptional or rare. They are commonly observed in both New Testament and Classical Greek. There is no question of "tampering" with the original. It is a matter of making an intelligent choice among legitimate alternatives, and the guiding factor must be the principle that Scripture is in harmony with itself, and alternatives may not be allowed to create contradictions between single passages and the rest of Scripture as a whole.

     There is a further class of passages which seem to belong together and which may indeed be interpreted to signify a certain universalistic aspect of the Lord's death which cannot be denied but which in no way conflicts with the doctrine of Limited Atonement as formulated by the Reformers. We may introduce this aspect of the problem by reference to 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15. Here it is written: "For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but  

     pg.21 of 26     


unto Him which died for them. and rose again." Now, it seems that there might be two possibilities here whereby this passage may be understood in such a way as to be in harmony with the rest of Scripture, for in harmony with the rest of Scripture it must assuredly be when rightly understood.
     
The first proposed solution is that one ought to be guided as to the intention of the writer by the fact that the words are addressed to believers (saints at Corinth) who are therefore the referents of the "us" of the text, that is, the love of Christ constrains us believers. Then the words, "we thus judge that if one died for all," should be understood to mean, "If one died for all of us, then we were all dead." That such could very well be the intention seems to be borne out by the words "that they who live, the saints which live, should not henceforth live unto themselves." Being the beneficiaries of his death by which we are now among the spiritually alive, we therefore ought to follow his example in this, namely, that we, like Him, should not live unto ourselves.
     
There is another possibility. There are a number of passages which speak in universalistic terms of the Lord's death as being for (i.e., on behalf of) all men. Such is the case in 2 Corinthians 5:14. But even more specific is Hebrews 2:9 which reads: "He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man." There is also 1 Corinthians 15:22: "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Now there is little doubt that Adam experienced death in the sense of terminating his physical life as a penalty for an act of disobedience in eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That he need not have experienced physical death had he not disobeyed has been the belief of the Christian Church since the days of the Church Fathers, and was believed even before that by Jewish commentators themselves. Roman Catholic theologians have also officially held this view. Adam did not merely shorten his life but actually by disobedience introduced physical death as something new for the human race. Romans 5:12 puts it very precisely: "By one man sin entered, and by sin death . . . and so death passed upon all men." Or as 1 Corinthians 15:22 puts it: "In Adam all [men] die."
     
We are thus mortal creatures, as presently constituted, contrary to what God originally made possible for us when He created Adam and formed Eve. This defective condition of our bodies is the result of our being conceived of corrupted seed. In the sight of God we are defective in this respect, and while the fault is not immediately our own, we come under judgment, the penalty of which is that in the end we are all brought to a condition of both spiritual death and physical death. God is just to pass this judgment of death upon us, but just also in recognizing that we are not personally guilty of the corruption which brings us to physical death. In his justice, God took it upon Himself to pay the price of this mortal defect for all men alike, universally and individually. It is in this sense that the Lamb of God takes 

      pg.22 of 26      


away the sin of the world (John 1:29), that inheritable defect by which all men are brought to the grave, having tasted death for all men (Hebrews 2:9), so that as in Adam all die, in Christ shall all be not merely resurrected but made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22), that is, put once for all beyond the power of physical death. Perhaps it is in this sense that 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 is to be understood.
     
There would, then, be a truly universalistic aspect to the Lord's sacrifice, not for men's sinful actions but for man's sinful condition, that condition which renders man a mortal creature. In this aspect of his Atonement there are no limitations placed upon it since all men equally will be raised from the dead, freed forever from this present physical defect, and will therefore face judgment in bodies no longer subject to death. As Jesus assured his hearers: "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God...and shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:25, 29). The ransoming of all men's bodies from the grave is one of the universal effects of the Lord's sacrifice, one real sense in which He died for the world, that is, for all men indiscriminately.
     
There is one other truly universalistic aspect of the Lord's Atonement which is often overlooked. The Old Testament prescribes sacrifices which are to be offered for all kinds of sins. One special type of sin to be covered by sacrifice was sin done in ignorance. Such sins were called trespasses and the appropriate offering was a trespass-offering. Leviticus 5:15, 17, and 19 provide the following instructions: "If a soul commit a trespass and sin through ignorance . . . then he shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish . . . for a trespass-offering . . .  And if a soul sin. . . . though he know it not, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity. . . [The ram] is a trespass-offering: he has certainly trespassed against the Lord."
     
Now the Israelite would normally only make such an atonement if he were notified somehow of the offense of which he was otherwise unaware. In the larger context outside Israel's Covenant with God, no such arrangement existed for men, yet men everywhere and throughout all history have been guilty before God of offenses of which they were unaware. This is not to deny the fact, of course, that all men have also been guilty before God of offenses of which they were fully aware either accusing themselves or excusing themselves accordingly, their conscience bearing witness (Romans 2:14, 15). It is not these known offenses that we speak of here but the unknown ones: in short, their trespasses. What is to be done about these in the Judgment? Would it be just for God to condemn men for sins committed unawares?
     
Well, God is just indeed. As 2 Corinthians 5:19 assures us: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses 

     pg.23 of 26     

unto them." Thus the judgment of God is entirely fair. Among the effects of sin are therefore two consequences for which in fairness man could not appropriately be held responsible: the defect of his body, and the fruits of that defect sinful actions which are committed without awareness. The first is covered by the sacrifice of Christ when He took upon himself the sin of the world, and the second when He took upon himself the world's trespasses. And in these two areas of judgment God was satisfied and man was reconciled. In both of these aspects of man's sinful estate the Atonement appears to have unlimited application. It is possible that not a few passages claimed by those who hold an Arminian position have direct reference to these aspects. Yet in the sense in which Calvin spoke of the Lord's sacrifice as being a Limited Atonement, I do not think these two forms pose any essential challenge to his theological position. Man is still guilty for his deliberate sinful actions.
    
In short, Limited Atonement is specifically in relation to our SINS, the sinful acts of believers; Unlimited Atonement is in relation to the SIN not only of the believers but of the whole human race (John 1:29). Only if we keep these two words (SINS and SIN)* distinct and separate can we reconcile those passages of Scripture which clearly seem to imply Limited Atonement, such as that "the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep" (John 10:11) and not for the goats, with those which tell us unequivocally that the Lamb gave Himself for the whole world (John 1:29). His sacrifice was indeed sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect, since otherwise we face the problems of (1) over-compensation (which signifies faulty assessment of the need) and (2) double jeopardy (which introduces a serious legal dilemma).

     Only one passage remains to be considered. In 1 John 2:1, 2 it is written: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not. And if any man does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." This passage is admittedly a difficult one for those who hold to a Limited Atonement. Yet it is impossible to believe that there could be in Scripture a very general (though quite specific) theme favouring Limited Atonement only to be countered by a single passage unequivocally presenting precisely the opposite view. I think we have to assume that there is a meaning to this passage which will perfectly satisfy the original Greek while harmonizing with the rest of Scripture. What, then, can be done with these words by way of elucidation?
     
For centuries, theologians have struggled with this passage and found themselves baffled. It has often been suggested, following Augustine's lead, that we have here an enunciation of the grand principle that the sacrifice of Christ was efficient in intent for the elect of God only, but sufficient in

*For a discussion of these two words, see Arthur Custance, "The Compelling Logic of the Plan of Salvation", Part VII in Man in Adam and in Christ, vol.3 of The Doorway Papers Series.

     pg.24 of 26     

extent for the whole world. Or, to put it slightly differently, his sacrifice was of limited intended application but unlimited in intrinsic value. Its worth was sufficient to cover the sins of all men, but it was not designed to do so; its design was limited to the elect. Augustinians and Calvinists have not denied that Christ died for all men. They have denied only that He died equally for all men. In so far as all men will be made alive in Christ and forgiven their sins of ignorance, thus far He died for all men. In so far as He died for the sins of his people (Matthew 1:21) or for this sheep (John 10:15) or for his Church (Ephesians 5:25), thus far is his atoning sacrifice limited in its application. In so far as all for whose sins He paid the penalty will come in due time in faith to be redeemed, thus far his victory will be complete. But He did not die for the culpable sins of any individual who never avails himself of that sacrifice. Ambrose said that if a man dies unconverted, Christ did not die for him. Such is the usual method of handling this apparently contradictory passage.
     
There is, however, a remote possibility that John may have had a slightly different thought in mind. John's Epistles in most modern versions are placed among the Epistles directed initially towards Hebrew Christians scattered abroad after the fall of Jerusalem. If it is these Christians, rather than Gentile Christians, that John originally had in mind as he penned these words, then the "ours only" which is contrasted with "the whole world" could conceivably be a reflection of the view held by Jews almost universally at that time that there was a real bifurcation of human society in this respect. The world was composed of two classes of people: the Jews and the Gentiles. To the Jews, the Jews were "we," the Gentiles were "they."
     
John would then be saying to his Hebrew Christian readers, "Let us remember that our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the propitiation for our sins but not for ours only, but also for the sins of Gentile believers throughout the world." In other words, because the reference to "our sins" might be misunderstood as limited to Jewish believers, among whom John included himself, John hastens to add, "And not for ours only, but also the sins of the whole world," thereby including all Gentile believers who enjoyed precisely the same advocacy.*
     A rather similar parallel may be observed in 1 Peter 5:9, which reads: "Resist [your adversary the devil] steadfastly in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." It could be that the Jewish believers to whom Peter addressed his words had a tendency to forget that they belonged to a larger fellowship rooted in the 

* Caiaphas' prophetic utterance in John 11:52 seems to bear this out. He spoke of Jesus' dying not for "that nation only" but also that He "should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad."

     pg.25 of 26     


Gentile world. Peter and John may both have desired to remind their brethren of this, in order to strengthen the bonds of Christian unity.
     
Perhaps the first solution, which is also by far the more commonly employed, is really better. Yet it must be admitted that even this solution has some element of begging the issue about it. But it is true that the Atonement clearly was limited and is limited in its application to all who are believers, though there are no such limits to be placed upon its intrinsic worth. Did every man, woman, and child lay claim to it, it would easily support those claims. As 2 Samuel 18:3 indicates, a human king may have such superior worth as to overweigh the deaths of ten thousand ordinary men. How much greater in value must be the death of the very Son of God?
     
It is always difficult to change the thinking habits of a lifetime. Many of the passages which we have examined in this chapter have for so long been read with a universalistic colouring that it will not be easy to re-orient to them, especially when most modern versions continue to reinforce their broader meaning. That this reinforcement may be unwarranted in the light of the rest of Scripture does not make it any easier to re-orient oneself. If scholars in their translations of these universalistic passages had from the first been guided by Calvinistic presuppositions, such verses would have struck us very differently, though still faithfully reflecting the original.

      In summary, taking into account alternative renderings of the word all and of the word world, and taking into account an extended meaning of the word saved, the three words which play a crucial part in almost every one of the passages of Scripture which seem to challenge the concept of Limited Atonement, it has to be said that these passages may very reasonably be shown to be in harmony. The case against Limited Atonement is not a strong one if these passages are removed from the controversy.
     
In so treating these apparently contrary passages we may be accused of bending Scripture to support the doctrine we favour. But we may say in reply that our opponents, Arminian-oriented evangelicals, must in like manner face the many passages that we can point to which clearly oppose their position. For example, "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16), or "No man can come unto Me, except it were given him of my Father" (John 6:65). Have they ever seriously attempted to re-translate these passages from the original Greek in such a way as to show that there really is nothing exclusive about God's Election? Indeed, do our opponents even try to find an alternative rendering that by its very reasonableness would find wide acceptance? It is difficult to imagine how passages such as these can ever be made to mean anything less than that the Father elects certain ones to be his sheep, and that these sheep are the ones for whom the Shepherd has given his life while the rest are passed by, being allowed to go their own way. 

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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