Limited Atonement

Introduction

Although not directly referenced by Calvin, the doctrine of "Limited Atonement" is logically derived from the theories of total inherited depravity, predestination, and an unconditional election. This doctrine can be inferred as follows: If these other tenets be true, then the reprobate can in no way enjoy the blessings of Jesus sacrifice on the cross. They cannot appropriate the redemptive blood for themselves, and if predestination be true, then it was God's intent since before time. Therefore, Christ's crucifixion was not intended to and cannot save the reprobate. Consequently, the afforded atonement is limited only to the elect.

God Wants All Men to Be Saved

If Calvinism be true, then God alone wills and brings about His will. There is no other free will. However, we do not find a God who has elected only a select few to be saved, but we find a God who desires all to be saved.

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." II Peter 3:9

Even Calvin recognized that this was contrary to his doctrines and explained it away by saying this verse must be interpreted so as to conform to other passages as He had previously interpreted them, which we respond to elsewhere.

Not only does God want all men to repent, but He also wants them to understand His will and be saved.

"For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I Timothy 2:3-4

How much more plain can it be made? One may believe that it is the elect alone who are under consideration, but if it were so, why did God not say so? And, why did He rather say "all men", unless He meant all men? If we are allowed to insert words to come to our desired interpretation ("all ELECT men"), then how will ever arrive at God's intended meaning and not always see our own desires instead? Do we have a love of truth, or of something else?

God Seeks for All Men to Be Saved

The Bible goes farther than to say that He desires all men to be saved. We find that He actually sent Christ to die for all men.

"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" I Timothy 2:5-6

Again some will contest that we should insert the words "elect", or force an interpretation in light of the other tenets of Calvinism, but what justification do we have for such authority? The letter was written to a Christian preacher and mentions Christians, so then why would Paul begin to speak of "all men" and "all"? The prior verses reference both Christians and those who have fallen away and been delivered to Satan (I Timothy 1:16-20). How then could we honestly limit the context to only Christians, when the language shifts to a larger context, "all men", which included and kings and governors (I Timothy 2:1-3)?

We see this point again in John's writings:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

"My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." II John 2:1-2

Suppose that God did intend that the atonement would be unlimited, and anyone who was willing could be saved. How else would have He written the above statement? And, if Christ is the sacrificial lamb for the whole world, then who prevents the whole world from being saved?

If this tenet falls, then all of Calvinism falls, which is true of all of the tenets because of their logical dependency.

Conclusion

Several points of Calvinism can be complicated and confusing, but few seems so directly addressed in the Scripture. We find that God not only wants all men to be saved, but He sent His Son into the world so that the whole world could be saved. Now, how the world deals with this sacrifice is seen in the verses that follow the verses we have examined. Some men love darkness, while others love truth, and this determines how they respond to the gospel (John 1:1-13; 3:1-21).

Next: Irresistible Grace

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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