by Dr. Loraine Boettner (1901-1990)
The question which we are to discuss under the subject of “Limited Atonement” is, Did Christ offer up Himself a sacrifice for the whole human race, for every individual without distinction or exception; or did His death have special reference to the elect? In other words, was the sacrifice of Christ merely intended to make the salvation of all men possible, or was it intended to render certain the salvation of those who had been given to Him by the Father? Arminians hold that Christ died for all men alike, while Calvinists hold that in the intention and secret plan of God, Christ died for the elect only.
Concerning this doctrine the Westminister Confession says, “Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed in Christ, are effectually called unto 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 other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only” (Chapter III, section 6).
It will be seen at once that this doctrine necessarily follows from the doctrine of election. If from eternity God has planned to save one portion of the human race and not another, it seems to be a contradiction to say that His work has equal reference to both portions, or that He sent His Son to die for those whom He had predetermined not to save … If God has elected some and not others to eternal life, then plainly the primary purpose of Christ’s work was to redeem the elect.
The atonement is limited in purpose and application
When the atonement is made universal its inherent value is destroyed. If it is applied to all men, and if some are lost, the conclusion is that it makes salvation objectively possible for all but that it does not actually save anybody. According to the Arminian theory the atonement has simply made it possible for all men to cooperate with divine grace and thus save themselves – if they will. But tell us of one cured of disease and yet dying of cancer, and the story will be equally luminous with that of one eased of sin and yet perishing through unbelief. The nature of the atonement settles its extent. If it effectively secured salvation, it had reference only the elect. As Dr. Warfield says, “The things we have to choose between are an atonement of high value, or an atonement of wide extension. The two cannot go together.” The work of Christ can be universalized only by evaporating its substance.
Let there be no misunderstanding at this point. The Arminian limits the atonement as certainly as does the Calvinist. The Calvinist limits the extent of it in that he says it does not apply to all persons… while the Arminian limits the power of it, for he says that in itself it does not actually save anybody.
Perfect fulfilment of the law
Divine justice demands that the sinner shall be punished, either in himself or in his Substitute. We hold that Christ acted in a strictly substitutionary way for His people, that He made a full satisfaction for their sins, thus blotting out the curse from Adam and all their temporal sins; and that by His sinless life He perfectly kept for them the law which Adam had broken, thus earning for His people the reward of eternal life. We believe that the requirement for salvation now as originally is perfect obedience, that the merits of Christ are imputed to His people as the only basis of their salvation, and that they enter Heaven clothed only with His perfect righteousness and utterly destitute of any merit properly their own. Thus grace, pure grace, is extended not in lowering the requirements for salvation but in the substitution of Christ for His people. He took their place before the law and did for them what they could not do for themselves.
If the Arminian theory were true it would follow that millions of those for whom Christ died are finally lost, and that salvation is thus never applied to many of those for whom it was earned … It would also follow that God’s plans many times have been thwarted and defeated by His creatures and that while He may do according to His will in the armies of heaven (Dan. 4.35), He does not do so among the inhabitants of the earth.
“The sin of Adam”, says Charles Hodge, “did not make the condemnation of all men merely possible; it was the ground of their actual condemnation. So the righteousness of Christ did not make the salvation of men merely possible, it secured the actual salvation of those for whom He wrought”.
Charles H. Spurgeon says, “If Christ has died for you, you can never be lost. God will not punish twice for one thing. If God punished Christ for your sins He will not punish you. ‘Payment God cannot twice demand; First at my bleeding Surety’s hand, and then again at mine.’ How can God be just if He punished Christ the Substitute and then man himself afterwards?”
Christ is said to have been a ransom for His people – “the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mat. 20.28). Notice, this verse does not say
that He gave His life a ransom for all, but for many. The nature of a ransom is such that when paid and accepted it automatically frees the person for whom it was intended. Otherwise it would not be a true ransom. Justice demands that those for whom it is paid shall be freed from any further obligations.
If the suffering and death of Christ was a ransom for all men rather than for the elect only, then the merits of His work must be communicated to all alike and the penalty of eternal punishment cannot be justly inflicted on any. God would be unjust if He demanded this extreme penalty twice over, first from the Substitute and then from the persons themselves. The conclusion then is that the atonement of Christ does not extend to all men, but that it is limited to those for whom He stood Surety – that is, to those who compose His true church.
The divine purpose in Christ’s sacrifice
If Christ’s death was intended to save all men, then we must say that God was either unable or unwilling to carry out His plans. But once the work of God is always efficient, those for whom atonement was made and those who are actually saved must be the same
people. Arminians suppose that the purposes of God are mutable, and that His purposes may fail. . .
Jesus Himself limited the purpose of His death when He said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10.11,15). If therefore, He laid down His life for the sheep, the atoning character of His work was not universal. On another occasion He said to the Pharisees, ‘But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you” (John 10.26); and again, “Ye are of your father the devil” [John 8.44). Will anyone maintain that He laid down His life for these, seeing that he so pointedly excludes them?
The angel which appeared to Joseph told him that Mary’s Son was to be called Jesus, because His mission in the world was to save His people from their sins (Mat. 1.21). He then came not merely to make salvation possible but actually to save His people; and what He came to do we may confidently expect Him to have accomplished.
Since the work of God is never in vain, those who are chosen by the Father, those who are redeemed by the Son, and those who are sanctified by the Spirit – or in other words, election, redemption and sanctification – must include the same persons. The Arminian doctrine of a universal atonement makes these unequal and thereby destroys the perfect harmony within the Trinity. Universal
redemption means universal salvation.
Christ declared that the elect and the redeemed were the same people when in the intercessory prayer He said, “Thine they were,
and thou gavest them me” (John 17.6), and “I pray for them:
I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine” (vs. 9). And again, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10.14-15).
The same teaching is found when we are told to “feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20.28). We are told that Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5.25), and that He laid down His life “for His friends” (John 15.13). Christ died for such as were Paul and John, not for such as were Pharaoh and Judas who were goats and not sheep. We cannot say that His death was intended for all, unless we say that Pharaoh, Judas, etc. were of the sheep, friends and church of Christ.
When it is said that Christ died for His people it is denied that He died equally for all men. It was not, then, a general and indiscriminate love of which all men were equally the objects, but a peculiar, mysterious, infinite love for His elect which caused God to send His Son into the world to suffer and die. Any theory which denies this great and precious truth, and which would explain away this love as merely indiscriminate benevolence or philanthropy which had all men for its objects, many of whom are allowed to perish, must be unscriptural. Christ died not for an unorderly mass, but for His people, His bride, His church. Amen.