FOR WHOM DID CHRIST DIE?
In volume 10 of the Works of John Owen, reprinted by the Banner of Truth in 1967 there is a long and powerful discussion of the question of the extent of the Atonement under the title The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. For anyone who is troubled by the arguments of those who say that Christ died for everyone, or Christ died to make salvation possible for everyone, or even that everyone will eventually be saved, this work of John Owen, written so long ago (1647), is essential reading. Many today, however, are not familiar with the style and language of the seventeenth century and so Grace Publications have embarked on a very helpful project – to produce many of the great Puritan and later Christian Classics in an abbreviated and simplified form. These readable and useful booklets are available from Evangelical Press or any good Christian Bookshop.
The following extract will give some impression of the style of these Condensed Christian Classics and, more than that, it will underline an emphasis which needs to be made very plainly in these days. Often, in the well-intentioned desire for making the Gospel known to all people, there is a sad lack of precision in regard to this doctrine. The command of our Lord is that the gospel be preached in all the world and to every creature but it is no good news to give the impression that God’s appointed Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, has failed in regard to a large section of the human race even though, some say. He died for all of them! If the saving work of our Lord is ineffective for some for whom He is said to have died there is no certain salvation for anyone! The Bible speaks with a different voice altogether and the glorious certainty of salvation for all who believe, who are all the elect of God, is the constant theme of New Testament preaching. This great doctrine of Particular Redemption also lies at the heart of the believer’s assurance of salvation. He “loved me and gave himself for me”, said Paul in Galatians 2.20, and he was a man who knew the truth of our Saviour’s words, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”, John 6.37.
What follows constitutes Part Three of Life by His Death, prepared by H. J.
Appleby, and published in 1981 by Grace Publications Trust. There have been minor omissions to allow it to be read as a separate article without references to other parts of the book. Ed.
Two arguments based on the nature of the new covenant
Argument 1. In Matthew 26.28 the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of “my blood of the new testament”. This new “testament”, or “covenant” is the new agreement, or contract, God has made to save men. The blood of Christ, shed by His death, is the cost of that agreement, and that relates only to those to whom the agreement applies.
This new agreement is different from the old agreement that God made with men. By the old agreement (or covenant). God promised to save all who kept His laws: “The man who does these things will live by them” (Romans 10.5; Leviticus 18.5). But because men are sinners, they cannot keep God’s laws. So the old agreement is made useless.
In the new agreement. God promises to put His laws in our minds and write them in our hearts (Hebrews 8.10). It is clear, then, that this agreement can only relate to those in whose hearts and minds God actually does this. Since God obviously does not do this for all men, all men cannot be included in the agreement by which Christ died.
Some have suggested that God would write His law in our minds if only we believed. But faith is the same thing as having God’s law written in our hearts! So to talk as some do is to say: “If His law is in our hearts (i.e. as it is, in every believer). God promises He will write his law in our hearts” – which is nonsense!
The nature of the new covenant makes it clear that Christ’s death was not for all men.
Argument 2. The gospel – in other words, the news about the new covenant – has been in the world through all the years since Christ. Yet whole nations have lived without any knowledge of it. If it was intended that the death of Christ should save all men, on condition that they believe, then the gospel ought to have been made known to all men.
If God has not arranged for all men to hear the gospel, then either it must be possible for men to be saved without faith and knowledge of the gospel; or, the purpose to save all men has failed, since all men have not heard. The former cannot be true, for faith is a part of salvation. The latter cannot be true, either; would it be the nature of the wisdom of God to send Christ to die that all men might be saved, and yet never make sure all men heard of it? Is the goodness of God shown in such behaviour? It is as if a doctor should say that he has a medicine that would cure everyone’s diseases, yet deliberately hides that knowledge
from many people. Can you really argue, in that case, that the doctor genuinely intended to cure everyone’s diseases?
There are a number of scriptures which make it clear that millions never hear a word about Christ. And we can give no other reason for that than the reason Jesus Himself gave: “Even so. Father, for so it ,seemed good in thy sight” (Matthew 11.26). Such scriptures as Psalm 147.19,20; Acts 14.16; Acts 16.6,7, confirm the facts of our common experience that the Lord does not make any arrangement to ensure that all hear the gospel. We must conclude that it is not God’s purpose to save all men.
Three arguments based on Bible descriptions of salvation
Argument 3. The scriptures describe what Jesus Christ obtained by His death as “eternal redemption”. (This is our deliverance from sin, death and hell, for ever.) Now if this blessing was purchased for all
men, then either all men automatically have this eternal redemption; or, it is available for all men on fulfilment of certain conditions.
In our experience, it is plainly not true that all men have eternal
redemption. So, is eternal redemption, then, available on certain conditions?
I ask, did Christ satisfy those conditions for us, or does the satisfying of these conditions become ours only if further conditions are satisfied by us? The first of these – that Christ does fulfil all the conditions that must be met for eternal redemption to be given – would mean that all
men do have this redemption; which, as we have already seen, does not agree with our experience of men! We have to say, then, that if Christ does not fulfil the conditions for all men to have redemption, He must fulfil those conditions only for those who fulfil further conditions. Now we run in a circle, making those conditions that are met depend on other conditions being met! These arguments show how unreasonable it is to suppose Christ died to obtain eternal salvation for all men.
If it is still insisted that eternal redemption is available on the fulfilment of certain conditions, then surely all men should be told? But many have this knowledge withheld from them, as we have seen previously.
And further, if obtaining eternal redemption depends on men fulfilling conditions, then either they have, or have not the power to do so. If they are able themselves to fulfil the necessary conditions, then we must say that all men can, of their own ability, believe the gospel. But this is quite contrary to scripture, which shows men dead in sin and therefore not able to fulfil any conditions.
If it is agreed that men do not themselves have the ability to fulfil the
conditions for obtaining eternal redemption, then either God plans to give them this ability, or He does not. If He does so plan, why doesn’t He do it? Then all men would be saved.
If, however, God does not intend to give all men the ability to believe, and yet Christ died that all men should have eternal redemption, then we have God requiring men to exercise abilities which He refuses to give them. Surely this is madness? It is as if God promises to give a dead man power to make himself alive, but at the same time has no intention of giving the man that promised power!
Argument 4. The Bible describes carefully those for whom Christ died. We are told that the human race can be divided into two groups, and that Christ died for only one of those groups.
Scriptures which show God dividing men into two groups are:
Matthew 25.12 and 32
John 10.14 and 26
1 Thessalonians 5.9
We learn that there are those whom God loves, and those whom He hates; those whom He knows, and those whom He does not know.
Other scriptures make clear that Christ died for only one of these two groups. He died, we are told, for:
His people Matthew 1.21
His sheep John 10.11 and 14
His church Acts 20.28
His elect Romans 8.32-34
His children Hebrews 2.13
Surely we must conclude from all this that Christ did not die for those who are not His people, or His sheep, or His church? He cannot therefore have died for all men.
Argument 5. We ought not to describe salvation in any way different from the way in which the Bible describes it. And the Bible nowhere says that Christ died “for all men”, or for each and every man. It is said that Christ gave his life “a ransom for all”; however, it cannot be shown that this means more than “all his sheep” or “all his elect”. If you look carefully at any verse which uses the word “all”, and examine it in its context, you will soon be persuaded that nowhere does scripture say that Christ died for each and every man.
Two arguments based on the nature of Christ’s work
Argument 6. There are many Bible verses which speak of the Lord Jesus Christ as making Himself responsible for others when He died;
He died for us Romans 5,8
He was made a curse for us Galatians 3.13
He was made sin for us 2 Corinthians 5.21
Such expressions make it clear that Christ was doing something as a substitute for others.
Now if He died instead of others, it must follow that all those whose place He took must now be free from the anger and judgment of God (God cannot justly punish both, Christ and those whose substitute He was!). Yet it is clear that all men are not free from God’s wrath (see John 3.36). Therefore Christ cannot have been the substitute for all men.
If it is still insisted that Christ did die as a substitute for all men, then we must conclude that His death was not a good enough sacrifice, for all men are not saved from sin and judgment!
Indeed, if Christ did die instead of all men, then either He offered Himself a sacrifice for all their sins (in which case all men are saved), or it was a sacrifice for some of their sins only (in which case no-one is saved, for some sins remain). Neither of these statements can be true. It must be clear that there is no way we can say that Christ died for all men.
Argument 7. The scriptures describe the nature of the work that Jesus Christ has done, as the work of a mediator and of a priest: “He is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9.15). He acts as a mediator by being the priest of those whom He brings to God. That Jesus Christ is not the priest of everyone is obvious from experience, as well as from scripture.
Three arguments based on the nature of holiness and faith
Argument 8. If the death of Christ is the means by which those for whom He died are cleansed from sin and made holy, then He must have died only for those who actually become so. It is obvious that all men are not made holy. Christ therefore did not die for all men.
Perhaps I should prove that the death of Christ is indeed the means of obtaining cleansing and holiness. I do this in two ways:
First, the Old Testament pattern of worship was designed to teach truths about the death of Christ. The blood of the Old Testament sacrifices did make it possible for those for whom it was shed, to come as acceptable worshippers to God. So how much more must the blood of Christ actually cleanse from sin those for whom He died? (Hebrews 9.13,14).
Second, there are scripture verses that plainly state that the death of Christ does the very things it was intended to do; the body of sin is destroyed, that we should serve sin no more (Romans 6.6); we have redemption through His blood (Colossians 1.14); He gave himself to redeem us, and to purify us (Titus 2.14). These verses, and many more, all insist that holiness is the certain result in the lives of all for whom Christ died. Since all men are not holy, Christ did not die for all men.
Some suggest – vainly! – that Christ’s death is not the only cause of this holiness. They say that it only becomes actual or real when the Holy Spirit brings it, or when it is received by faith. But the work of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of faith, are also the result or fruit of Christ’s death! So this suggestion does not alter the fact that actual holiness is the certain result only in the lives of those for whom Christ died. The fact that the judge gives permission and the gaoler unlocks the prison door, is not the cause of the debtor being set free; the cause is that someone paid his debts for him.
Argument 9. Faith is essential to salvation. This is clear from scripture (Hebrews 11.6) and most people accept the fact. But, as we have already seen, all that is necessary for salvation has been obtained for us by Christ.
Now if this essential faith is obtained for all men by Christ, it is ours either with, or without, some conditions. If it is without conditions, then all men have it. But that is contrary to experience, and to scripture (2 Thessalonians 3.2). If faith is given only on some condition, then I ask:
On what condition?
Some say. Faith is given on condition that we do not resist God’s grace. Yet, not to resist really means to obey. To obey means to believe, So what these friends are really saying is, “Faith is granted to those who believe” (i.e. those who have faith!) This is plainly absurd.
On the other hand, some argue that faith is not obtained for us by Christ’s death. Is faith then an act of our own wills? But that is quite contrary to what many Bible verses teach, and ignores the fact that unbelievers are dead in sin, unable to perform any spiritual act, (l Corinthians 2.14). So I shall return to the position that faith is obtained by Christ.
Faith is an essential part of holiness. In Argument 8, I showed that holiness is obtained for us by the death of Christ. Therefore He also obtained faith for us. To deny this is to say that He obtained only a partial holiness, i.e. lacking faith. No-one seriously suggests this.
Moreover, God chose His people, we are told, in order that they might be holy; (Ephesians 1.4). Again, faith is an essential part of holiness. In choosing His people to be holy, God must choose that they shall have faith.
It was part of the agreement between God the Father and God the
Son that all for whom Christ died shall have the blessings the Father intends to give them. Faith is one of the blessings the Father gives Hebrews 8.10,11).
Scriptures clearly state that faith is obtained for us by Jesus Christ, who is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12.2). Statements such as this and the statements of the previous three paragraphs you have just read, all confirm that the death of Christ obtains faith for his people. Since all men do not have it, Christ cannot have died for all men.
Argument 10. The people of Israel were, in many ways, a kind of illustration of the New Testament church of God (1 Corinthians 10.11). Their priests and sacrifices were examples of what Jesus Christ was coming to do for the church of God. Their city, Jerusalem, is used as a picture of the believer’s heaven (Hebrews 12.22). A true Israelite is a believer (John 1.47) and a true believer is an Israelite (Galatians 3.29). So I argue this way:
If the nation of the Jews was chosen by God, out of all the nations in the world, to illustrate His dealings with the church, then it follows that the death of Christ was only for the church and not for all the world. The way God treated His chosen people in the Old Testament is an illustration of how the salvation Christ obtained is not for all men, but for His chosen people alone.
An argument based on the meaning of the word “Redemption”
Argument 11. The way in which the Bible describes a doctrine must help us to understand the doctrine. One Bible word used to describe the salvation Christ obtained, is the word redemption; e.g. “We have redemption through his blood” (Colossians 1.14). That word means “to free a person from captivity by paying a price”. The person is not redeemed unless he is freed. So the very word teaches us that Christ cannot have obtained redemption for any who are not freed. A universal redemption (so-called!) which finally leaves any still in captivity is a contradiction in terms.
The blood of Christ is actually called a price, and a ransom, in some Bible verses (e.g. Matthew 20.28). Now the purpose of a ransom is to obtain the deliverance of those for whom the price is paid. It is unthinkable that a ransom be paid and the person still remain a prisoner. So how can it be argued that Christ died for all men, when all men are not saved? Only those who are actually freed from sin can be those for whom Christ died. “Redemption” cannot be “universal” any more than ‘Roman” can be “catholic”! Redemption must be particular, since only some are redeemed.
6. An argument based on the meaning of the word “Reconciliation”
Argument 12. Another word the Bible uses to describe what Christ obtained by His death is the word reconciliation; “enemies … he reconciled …” (Colossians 1.21). Reconciliation is restoring friendship between two parties formerly enemies. In the salvation of which the Bible speaks. God is reconciled to us, and we are reconciled to God. Both these things must be true; the reconciling of the one party and of the other are two separate acts, but both are required to make a complete reconciliation. It is foolish to suggest that God is, through Christ’s death, now reconciled to all men, but that only some men are reconciled to Him. I hope no-one does suggest that God and all men are reconciled in this way. That would be a reconciliation hopping on one leg! There is no proper reconciliation unless both parties are reconciled to each other.
The effect of Christ’s death was to reconcile both God to men and men to God; “we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Romans 5.10) and “our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement (or reconciliation)” (Romans 5.11). So also both reconciliations are mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5.19,20 – “God … reconciling … to himself, and “you … be reconciled to God”.
Now how this double reconciliation can be “reconciled” with the notion of Christ’s death being for all men, I cannot see! For if all men are, by Christ’s death, so doubly reconciled, how does it happen that God’s wrath is upon any (John 3.36)? Surely, Christ can only have died for those who are actually reconciled?
7. An argument based on the meaning of the word “Satisfaction”
Argument 13. It is true that the word satisfaction is not used in the English Bible, with reference to the death of Christ. But the thing that the word means, i.e. “a full payment of what is due to a creditor by a debtor” is a thought often used in the New Testament, when it speaks of the death of Christ.
In our case, men are debtors to God, for they fail to keep His commandments. The satisfaction required to pay for our sin is death -“the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6.23). God’s laws are our accusers, expressing God’s justice and truth. We stand convicted as law-breakers, deserving therefore to die. Salvation is only possible if Christ shall pay our debt, and so satisfy the justice of God. His death is called “an offering” (Ephesians 5.2) and a “propitiation” (1 John 2.2). The word offering means a sacrifice of expiation, or a sacrifice to make amends
for sin. Propitiation means an offering to satisfy offended justice. So, we may rightly use the word satisfaction to cover the whole Bible teaching as to the meaning of Christ’s death.
Now if Christ has indeed by His death made satisfaction for any, then God must now be fully satisfied with them. God cannot justly require a second payment of any sort. How then can it be that Christ died for all men, and yet many live and die as sinners under the condemnation of God’s law? Let them that can, reconcile these things! I say that only those who are actually freed from debt in this life can be the ones for whom Christ made satisfaction.
Two arguments based on the value of the death of Christ
Argument 14. The New Testament does often speak of the worth or value of the death of Christ, with which He was able to purchase and obtain certain things: e.g. eternal redemption is said to be “obtained by His blood” (Hebrews 9.12); the church of God is said to be “bought with His own blood” (Acts 20.28); and Christians are called “a purchased people” (1 Peter 2.9, English A.V. margin).
Christ then, by His death, purchased, for all for whom He died, all those things which the Bible says were the effects of His death. The value of His death purchased deliverance from the power of sin and God’s wrath, from death and the power of the devil, from the curse of the law and the guilt of sin. The value of His death obtained
reconciliation with God, peace, and eternal redemption. These things are now God’s free gifts, because Christ purchased them. If Christ died for all men, then why do not all men have these things? Is the value of
His death not enough? Is God unjust, not to give us what Christ bought for us? It must be immediately obvious that Christ cannot have died to purchase these things for all men, but only for those who actually enjoy them.
Argument 15. Phrases often used of the death of Christ are such as:
Dying for us, bearing our sins, being our surety. The plain meaning of .such phrases is that Christ, in His death, was a substitute for others, that they might go free.
If, in His death, Christ was a substitute for others, how can they themselves also die still bearing their own sins? Christ could not have been a substitute for them, from which it is clear that He cannot have died for all men.
Indeed, to say Christ died for all men is the quickest way to prove He died for no-one. For if he died instead of all, and yet all are not saved, then He failed in His purpose.
A general argument from particular verses of scripture
Argument 16. There are a great number of Bible verses I could use, to argue that Christ did not die for the sins of all men. I will select just nine, and with them close our arguments in this part.
1. Genesis 3.15. There is the first Bible verse in which God indicates there is a difference between the people of God and their enemies. By “the seed of the woman” is meant Jesus Christ and then also all believers in Christ. (This is clear from the fact that what is prophesied of the woman’s seed is fulfilled in Christ and in His people.) By “the seed of the serpent” is meant all unbelieving men of the world (compare John 8.44). Since God promised only hatred between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, it is
obvious that Christ, the seed of the woman, did not die for the seed of the serpent!
2. Matthew 7.23. Christ here states that there are people whom He has never known. Yet, in another place (John 10.14-17) He says He does know all His own people. He must surely know all for whom
He died. If there are some He does not know. He cannot have died for them.
3. Matthew 11.25-27. From these words it is clear that there are some from whom God hides the gospel. If it is the Father’s will that they shall not have the gospel revealed to them, Christ cannot have died for them. And we should note that Christ here gives thanks to the Father for making this difference between men – a difference which some men still refuse to believe!
4. John 10.11, 15, 16, 27, 28. From these verses it is quite clear that:
i. All men are not Christ’s sheep.
ii. The difference between men will one day be obvious.
iii. Christ’s sheep are identified as those who hear Christ’svoice;others do not hear it.
iv. Some who are not yet identified as sheep are already chosen
and will become known (“other sheep”).
v. Christ died, not for all, but specifically for His sheep.
vi. Those for whom Christ died are those given to Him by His
Father. He cannot, then, have died for those not so given to Him.
5. Romans 8.32-34. From these verses it is plain that the death of Christ belongs only to God’s elect people, and also that Christ’s intercession is only for the same people.
6. Ephesians 1.7. From this verse we must say that if Christ’s blood was shed for all, then all must have this redemption and forgiveness. But most certainly all do not have them.
7. 2 Corinthians 5.21. So, in His death, Christ was made sin for all
those who are made the righteousness of God in Him. If He was sin for all, why are not all made righteous?
8. John 17.9. Christ’s intercession is not for all men, and therefore neither was His death.
9. Ephesians 5.25. Christ loves the church, and that is an example of how a man should love his wife. But if Christ loved others as well as His church, so as to die for them, then men may surely love other women besides their wives!
I did think I could add other arguments – but, on looking over what I have already said, I am confident that what has been already argued is enough to satisfy any who will be satisfied with anything; those who are obstinate will not be satisfied if I do include more. So I end my arguments here.