THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
It is sad that the most precious truths of our most holy faith have been the centre of controversy down through the history of the church. Nothing but the command to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints would stir a tender hearted believer to become involved in such contendings. However, a jealous regard for the glory and honour of their Saviour has compelled godly men throughout history to lift up the banner of truth and resist the devil in his attempts to corrupt the truth.
As far back as the fourth century a certain Prosper was writing to Augustine to say, “Those who embrace the Pelagian heresy profess to believe that Christ died for all men universally and that none are excluded from the atonement and redemption which the blood of Christ effected”. Arminius and his followers developed this teaching and were condemned by the Synod of Dort in 1618-19.
It would be sadly wrong to think that this error is just a relic of theological history. It is still sincerely believed and ardently preached by many in the evangelical world today. Indeed it is an error that goes hand in hand with numerous other false doctrines forming the foundation upon which so much modern preaching and writing rests. Almost invariably universal salvation is taught along with the error that all men have a natural ability and free will to accept or reject the salvation which it is said, Christ obtained for all indiscriminately.
The following extracts are from an important treatise by Francis Turrettin (1623-1687) entitled, Institutio Theologiae Elencticae translated by James R. Willson. Part of this work has recently been republished by the Baker Book House of Michigan, and copies of the book can be obtained from Gospel Tidings Publications.
These extracts are printed with the sincere desire of encouraging those who believe in the personal and particular work of Christ in their redemption, and who may be disturbed by the attacks of modern Arminians or semi-Arminians, and also to encourage any who may not believe these precious truths to consider more prayerfully the teaching of God’s Word.
The doctrine on this subject for which the Arminians contended at the Synod of Dort, is expressed in this manner:Â—”The price of redemption which Christ offered to his Father, was not only in itself sufficient for the redemption of the whole human family, but even by the decree, will and grace of God the Father, was paid for all men and every man, so that no one is, by an antecedent decree of God, particularly excluded from a participation of its fruits. Christ, by the merits of His death, has so far reconciled God to the
whole human family, that the Father on account of His merits, without any impeachment of His truth or justice, can enter and wishes to enter into and confirm a new covenant of grace with sinful men exposed to damnation.” 1. Hence they maintain, that according to the counsel of God, Christ so died for all men that not only is His death, on account of its own intrinsic value, sufficient for the redemption of all men, but that agreeably to the will of God it was offered for that express purpose: that it was a death in the room of all men and for their good, by the intervention of which, God ever after willed to deal graciously with all men; and hence, that the death of Christ was not a blessing promised in the covenant of grace, but the very foundation of it. 2. That by His own intention and that of His Father, He has obtained for all men, as well those who perish as those who are saved, a restoration into a state of grace and salvation, so that no one, on account of original sin, is either exposed to condemnation or will be condemned; but all are freed from the guilt of that sin. 3. That Christ, according to the counsel of His Father, delivered Himself up to death for all men, without any fixed purpose that any individual in particular should be saved; so that the necessity and utility of the atonement made by the death of Christ might be in every respect preserved, although the redemption obtained should not be actually applied to one individual of the human family. 4. That Christ by His atonement merited faith and salvation for none, with such certainty, that the atonement must be applied to them for salvation; but merely acquired for God the Father a perfect will and power to treat with man upon a new footing, to enter into a covenant either of grace or of works with man, and to prescribe whatever conditions He chose; the performance of which conditions depends entirely on the free will of man, so that it became possible that either all or none should fulfil them. 5. That the procurement of salvation is more extensive than its application; as salvation was obtained for all but will be applied to very few. All these are clearly proved to be Arminian tenets, from the Collation published at the Hague, and from the expose of their sentiments in their remonstrance against the second article of the Synod of Dort.
Those of our ministers, who defend the doctrine of universal grace, give great countenance to not a few of these Arminian tenets, nay, in a great measure adopt them as their own. That they may evince a philanthropy, a love of God towards the whole human family, they maintain that Christ was sent into the world by the Father as a universal remedy, to procure salvation for all men under the condition of faith. They say that though the fruit and efficacy of Christ’s death will be enjoyed by a few only, on whom God, by a special decree, has determined to bestow them, yet Christ died with an intention to save all, provided they would believe. In this manner, they teach that the decree of the death of Christ preceded the decree of election, that in sending Christ into the world, no special respect was had to the elect any more than to
the reprobate, and that Christ was appointed to be equally the Saviour of all men. They even distinctly assert that salvation was not intended to be procured for any particular persons, but the possibility of salvation for all.
Yet they all come to this point, that Christ satisfied for all men severally and collectively, and obtained for them remission of sins and salvation; of which, if many are deprived, the cause is not to be sought in any insufficiency of Christ’s death, nor any failure of will and intention on His part, but only in the unbelief of those who wickedly reject the salvation offered by Christ.
But the common opinion of the Reformed Church is, that Christ, from the mere good pleasure of His Father, was set apart and given as a Redeemer and Head, not to all men, but to a definite number, who by the decree of God constitute His mystical body. They maintain that for these alone, Christ, perfectly acquainted with the nature and extent of the work to which He was called, in order to accomplish the decree of their election and the counsel of His Father, was willing and determined to offer Himself up a sacrifice, and to the price of His death added an efficacious and special intention to substitute himself in their room and acquire for them faith and salvation. Whence we easily obtain a distinct statement of the question.
1. The pivot on which the controversy turns is, what was the purpose of the Father in sending His Son to die, and the object which Christ had in view in dying; not what is the value and efficacy of His death. Hence the question does not, as some learned divines have affirmed, respect the revealed will of God, but His secret will, His decree, to which, as all must agree, the mission and death of Christ are to be referred.
2. The question refers to the design of God in sending His Son into the world, and the purpose of Christ in His death. Were these such that Christ, by substituting Himself in the room of each and every man, made satisfaction and obtained the pardon of sin and salvation for them all; or was His work designed for the elect only? Our opponents say the former; we say the latter. The question is, whether the suretyship and satisfaction of Christ were, by the will of God and purpose of Christ, destined for every individual of Adam’s posterity, as our opponents teach; or for the elect only, as we maintain.
We embrace this opinion for the following reasons:
I. The mission and death of Christ are restricted to a limited numberÂ—to His people. His sheep, His friends. His Church, His body; and nowhere extended to all men severally and collectively. Thus, Christ, is called “Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1,21) He is called the Saviour of his body. [Eph. 5,23) The good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, (John 10,15) and for his friends. (John 15,13) He is said to dieÂ—that he might gather together in one, the children of God that were scattered abroad. (John 11,52) It is said that Christ hath purchased the Church (or his flock) with His own blood. (Acts 10,2S. Eph. 5.25-26) If Christ died for every one of Adam’s
posterity, why should the Scriptures so often restrict the object of His death to a few? How could it, with propriety, be said absolutely that Christ is the Saviour of His people and of His body, if He is the Saviour of others also? How could it in the same way be said that He laid down His life for His sheep, for the sons of God, and for the Church, if, according to the will and purpose of God, He died for others also? Would this be a greater proof of His love and a firmer ground of consolation?
II. We further argue that the atonement was definite, from the fact that Christ was destined to die for none but those who were given by the Father. All men universally were not given to Christ, but a limited number only. Since, in the council of the Father which regulated Christ’s death and defined its object, there was a designation, not only of Christ as Mediator, but also of those for whose redemption and salvation He was to suffer; it is plain that He could die for those only who were in this sense given Him. Here we may remark a twofold donation. One of Christ to men, another of men to Christ. Christ was given to men for the purpose of saving them, and men to Christ that through Him they might be saved. The former is referred to in Isa. 9,6, and 49,6, as well as in all those places in which He is said to be given and sent to us; the latter is alluded to in the places where mention is made of those given to Christ, as in John 17,2,6,12, and 6,37. Seeing this twofold giving is reciprocal, each of them must be of the same extent; so that Christ is given for none but those who are given to Him, and all those are given to Christ for whom He is given. Now, it is abundantly plain that some men only, and not all men, were given to Christ. This is asserted in many texts of Scripture, where those who are given to Him are distinguished from other men. “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. I have manifested thy name unto the men whom thou hast given me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them me.” (John 17,2-6) The Scripture designates those whom the Father gave Him by such phrases as these: the people whom He foreknew; (Rom. 11,2) heirs and children of promise; (Rom. 9,8) the seed of Abraham, not carnal, but spiritual, both of the Jews and Gentiles; (Rom. 4,13. Gal. 3,18. Heb. 2,16) His people. His body, the Church; (Matt. 1,21. Eph. 5,23) vessels of mercy prepared to glory; (Rom. 9,24) chosen in Christ, predestinated to the adoption of sons and to conformity to His image; (Rom. 8,30. Eph. 1,4-5) and the posterity of the second Adam, all of whom are to be quickened in Christ, in opposition to the posterity of the first Adam, in whom all die.(l Cor. 15,22-23) From all which it appears, that Christ was not given for all of all nations, but for a limited number only.
Our view is further confirmed by the connection of that twofold relation to us, which Christ sustains: the relation of a Surety, and that of a Head. He is our Surety, that He may acquire salvation for us, by rendering to justice that satisfaction which it demands. He is our Head, in order to apply this salvation to us, by working in us
faith and repentance, through the effectual operation of his Holy Spirit upon our hearts. Hence, as He is not given as a Head to all men, but to His members only, or, which is the same thing, to the elect, who are actually to partake of salvation. He cannot be the Surety or Sponsor of any other than these. Of whomsoever He is the Surety, He is also the Head. The one cannot be extended farther than the other. This also appears from the connection between the death and resurrection of Christ, in which there is the same twofold relation. Since He died as Surety, He must rise as Head, as the reasons for His death and resurrection are the same;
nor can any reason be given, why the ground of the one should be more extensive than that of the other. Hence it is, that the Apostle Paul speaks of these as being equal in efficacy and extent: “Christ died for our sins, and rose again for our justification.” (Rom. 6,25) “That he died for all, that they which live, should not live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again.” (2 Cor. 4,15) Hence it cannot be said that He died for any others than those for whom He rose, because no one will be a partaker of the fruits of Christ’s death, unless by His resurrection. But that He did not rise as a Head to confer salvation upon all, is self-evident.
III. The same doctrine is established by the connection between the atonement and the intercession of Christ. As they are both parts of His priestly office, they must be of the same extent; so that for all for whom He made satisfaction. He should also intercede, and not make atonement for those who will never have a place in His intercession. The object of His propitiation and of His appearance in the presence of God must be one, since the Apostles Paul and John represent their connection as indissoluble. (1 John 2,1-2. Rom. 8,34) That He does not intercede for all, but only for those who are given Him by the Father, Christ himself expressly declares: “I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me out of the world.” (John 17,9) When it is so much more easy to pray for any one than to lay down life for them, will any one say that Christ would die for those for whom He would not pray? Will they say that at the very moment before His death He would refuse His prayers on behalf of those for whom He is just about to shed his blood?
This argument will not be weakened by objecting that it is the world of unbelievers only, who are excluded from the prayers of Christ, those who are guilty of rejecting the Gospel, and hate believers, (v.l4) but not the world chosen by God, for the redemption of which he has sent his Son. (John 3,16) The object of ChristÂ’s intercessory prayers is to obtain for believers perseverance in grace. The world, for which Christ says He does not pray, is opposed to those given Him by his Father in the decree of election;
the world, then, of which He speaks must embrace all the reprobate who were not given to Christ, and this antecedently to their rejection of the gospel message. They were passed by as sinners, whether their sins were want of faith in the Gospel, or merely violations of the law of nature. As the act of God by which
He chose to pass by a certain number of men and not appoint them to salvation, was done from eternity, there never existed a period when they, the world for whom Christ does not pray, were viewed in any other light than as excluded from the benefits of His mediation and intercession. It forms no objection to this, that God is said “to have so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish;” because, as will be made to appear in the proper place, this does not extend to all men of all nations, but to the elect of every nation. Though He prays for the apostles who were then believers, and asks for them perseverance, yet it does not follow that He prays for them as believers only, and in consequence of their faith:
for Christ (5,19 and 23) prays for all who should afterwards believe, “That they may be sanctified through the truth and made perfect in one.” Now, as this sanctification and attainment to perfection could not be effected without the instrumentality of faith, Christ must have prayed for faith to be given them. Hence, even that faith by which the Gospel is embraced, is given to believers in consequence of Christ’s intercessory prayers. Further, as Christ declares that He sanctifies himself for those who are the objects of that intercessory prayer, that they may be sanctified through the truth; and as none are thus sanctified but the elect, the conclusion is irresistible, that Christ’s intercessory prayers are extended to the elect only, those who shall be saved with an everlasting salvation.
IV. The inseparable connection between the gift of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit bears testimony the most conclusive to the definite atonement. As these two gifts, the most excellent which God has bestowed on us, are always in Scripture joined together as cause and effect, (John 16,7. Gal. 4,4-6. Rom. 8,9. 1 John 3,24) they must be of equal extent and go together; so that the Son is not given to acquire salvation for any others, than those to whom the Spirit was given to apply the salvation procured. No reason can be assigned why the gift of the Son should be more extensive than the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is plain that the Holy Spirit is given to none but the elect. Hence, if there be any harmony between the work of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit, in the economy of salvation, Christ was given to die for the elect, and for them only. Pertinent to this purpose is the argument of the Apostle Paul, in which, from the giving of Christ, he infers the communication of every blessing. “He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8,32) The apostle reasons from the greater to the less. Surely He who gave His Son, which uncontrovertibly was the greater gift, will not refuse to give us faith and all other saving blessings, which are the less; and this the rather, because, as we shall presently prove, Christ, by delivering Himself up, has merited for us, together with salvation, all those gifts. Whence the conclusion is inevitable: either all those blessings shall be given to the reprobate, if Christ died for them; or if they
are not given them, which is granted by all, then Christ did not die for them, i.e.; he did not die for all. This is not answered by alleging that the apostle speaks of Christ’s being given in a special manner to the believers. For, as was said above, the supposition of a universal giving is gratuitous, and nowhere countenanced in Scripture; and since faith is a fruit of Christ’s death, it cannot be a condition antecedent to His death. Further, since, according to the order which is laid down by our learned opponents themselves, the decree concerning Christ’s death was antecedent to the decree relative to bestowing faith; it is inconceivable how at one and the same time, and in the self-same simple act, Christ could be delivered up for all, and for some only.
V. Another argument is, the superlative love of Christ towards those for whom He died. He loved them with the most ardent affection. Greater love has no one, than that one should lay down his life for his friend. John. 15.13. In the same exalted strain does the Apostle Paul extol the love of Christ:Â—he speaks of it as truly wonderful and unheard of among men. “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet peradventure for a good man some would dare even to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5,7-8. But this cannot be said of all men, and every man; for I presume that all men are agreed, that Christ loved Peter more than Judas. It is inconceivable how Christ could love with ineffable ardour of affection those whom, as an inexorable judge. He had already consigned, or had resolved by an irrevocable decree to consign, to mansions of endless woe and despair. It cannot with any colour of propriety be said that Christ and His apostle are treating of external acts of love. For, besides that, external acts of love presuppose those which are internal; if Christ exercises to each and to all external acts of love so great that none can be greater, it follows that He has done, and still does so much for those who perish, that it is impossible for Him to do more for the elect who shall be saved; than which nothing can be more absurd. Nor, if He loves some of the elect more than others, so far as regards the internal gifts of His Spirit, a diversity of which is necessary to the perfection of His mystical body, does it follow from this, that the disposition of His soul towards each of them as to the promotion of their good, is not supremely tender and affectionate.
VI. The same doctrine is inferred from the nature of Christ’s suretyship. For it imports the subscription of Christ in our room, so that He died not only for our good, but in our place, as was said before, and proved against the disciples of Socinus. Hence, from the nature of His suretyship. He must assume to Himself all the debt of those whose persons He sustains; and liquidate it as perfectly as if they themselves had done it in their own persons. Can it be conceived that those for whom He died and satisfied in this manner, may yet be subjected to eternal vengeance, and bound to suffer again deserved punishment? This question must be answered in the affirmative by all those who assert that Christ died
for many who shall not be saved by His death; and yet to say so is to impeach the justice and veracity of God. For if, in consequence of His suretyship, the debt has been transferred to Christ and by Him discharged, every one must see that it has been taken away from the primary debtors, so that payment cannot be demanded from them. They must forever afterwards remain free, absolved from all obligation to punishment. Pertinent to this purpose are all those passages of Scripture which assert that our sins were so laid upon Christ, that the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and that by His stripes we are healed, (Isa. 53,5-6) and those which declare that He was made a curse for us that we might be made the righteousness and blessing of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5,21. Gal. 3,13)
VII. Christ died for those only for whom He procured and to whom He applies salvation. As He procured and applies salvation to the elect only, hence for them only He died. That Christ did not die for any but those for whom He procured salvation, and to whom He will apply it, appears, first, from the divinely appointed object of His death, which was to procure salvation for us; and, secondly, from the fact that the procuring cannot be separated from the application; what other end can there be in procuring a thing, but that it may be applied? A thing is procured in vain, which is never applied. Hence it follows, that if salvation is procured for all, it will and must be applied to all. If it be not applied to all, but to the elect only, then it was not procured for all, but for the elect only. In vain it is objected, “that Christ’s death was not intended so much to procure salvation, as to remove all the obstacles which justice threw in the way to prevent God from thinking of our salvation.” From this view of the subject, Christ rather procured for us the possibility of being saved than salvation itself, and placed it in the power of the Father to enter into a new covenant with man; an Arminian error long since condemned by the Synod of Dort as an injury to Christ’s cross and to the efficacy of His mediation. How can Christ be said to have given Himself a ransom, a price of redemption for us, to obtain for us eternal salvation, to redeem us from all iniquity, and other things of the same kind, which denote not the possibility, but actual procuring of salvation, if, after all. He only rendered it possible that we might be saved?
Another objection equally futile is, that “redemption was procured for all with a design that it should be applied to all, provided they would not reject it.” This cannot be asserted with respect to an innumerable number, to whom Christ has never been preached, and who do not know Him even in name. If it be alleged that Christ proposed to Himself an object so vain and fruitless as a thing which was never to happen, and which could not happen without His gift, which He determined not to give, what an indignity is offered to His wisdom! It represents Christ as saying, I wish to obtain salvation for all, to the end that it may be applied to them, will they but believe; however, I am resolved not to reveal this redemption to all, and to refuse to innumerable multitudes to
whom it is revealed, that condition which is the only means by which it can be applied to them. Shall men make the infinitely wise and holy Jesus say, I desire that to come to pass, which I know neither will nor can take place; and I am even unwilling that it should, for I refuse to communicate the only means by which it can ever be brought to pass, and the granting of this means depends upon myself alone? What a shameful indignity does this offer to the wisdom of Immanuel! It would be an insult to the understanding of frail man. Nor will the matter be amended by saying that the failure of the application is not to be attributed to Christ, but to the wickedness and unbelief of man. This is not less injurious to the honour of Christ, for it represents Him either as not foreseeing, or as not capable of preventing those impediments, which obstruct the application of the salvation He obtained, and thus make it fruitless. They indeed allege that it was not in vain, though it fails of success; because, however men treat the salvation preached to them, Christ will not miss the prime object which He had in view in His death; that is, to provide pardon and salvation for every man if he will only believe and repentÂ—a thing which before was prevented by the inexorable rigour of divine justice. All this does not remove the absurdity. The object in procuring salvation could be none other than its application;, and it cannot but be in vain, if it fails to accomplish this object. Christ needed to die for men, not to procure for them pardon and salvation under a condition which it is impossible for them to comply with, but to obtain for them actual pardon and redemption.
VIII. Another argument is found in the fact that Christ did not purchase faith for all men. Christ suffered death for those only, for whom he merited salvation, and with salvation all the means necessary to put them in possession of it, especially faith and repentance, and the Holy Spirit, the author of both; without which salvation is unattainable. That He purchased faith, repentance, and the graces of the Holy Spirit, for all men universally, cannot be said; for then all men would necessarily be saved by His death. He procured them for the elect only; therefore for the elect only He died. This argument is irresistible, unless it is denied that Christ purchased those means of salvation. But that Christ purchased faith for man, is proved by abundant scriptural testimony. 1. He is said to be Heb. 12.2. Acts 5. 31. “the author and finisher of our faith.” If He is the author of our faith. He must be its purchaser, for he bestows nothing on us, which He has not procured for us by his merits. 2. Christ is the meritorious cause of salvation. To Him and His merits we are therefore indebted for every part of it, for everything which contributes to our salvation. But faith and spiritual life which he works and implants in us, are the chief part of our salvation. 3. Christ is the cause and foundation of all spiritual blessings: Eph. 1,3. “Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ.” And of these faith is one of the greatest. Hence it is elsewhere said, Phil. 1, 29. “It is given you on the part of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for
his sake.” In what other sense can faith be said to be given us for Christ’s sake, but because He purchased it for us? 4. Christ promised to send the Spirit; who therefore is poured out or distributed by Him. Hence the Spirit is spoken of as one of the fruits of Christ’s death. John 16, 7. All the gifts of the Spirit, especially faith, are therefore the fruits of Christ’s purchase. Here we are not to distinguish between the Spirit as sanctifying and comforting, and the Spirit as imparting spiritual illumination; as if Christ had merited the former only, and not the latter. For as all the graces of the heart proceed from the same Spirit, He who acquired for us the Spirit, the author of these graces, must also have acquired with Him all His gifts; and as faith is the principle and root of our sanctification. He who purchased the Spirit who sanctifies, must also have purchased “faith, which purifieth the heart.” 5. Christ could not be a full and perfect Saviour, unless He had procured for us faith, without which it is impossible to be made partakers of salvation. This doctrine has been uniformly taught in the Reformed Church. They maintained that Christ had not less procured for us faith, than salvation, and that He is the cause of all the gifts which the Father bestows upon us. Hence the venerable divines of the Synod of Dort, in their exhibition of the doctrines of truth, say “Christ, by his death, purchased for us faith and all the other saving graces of the Spirit.” And to the same purpose, in their “Rejection of Errors,” they condemn “those who teach that Christ, by his satisfaction, did not merit salvation for any definite number, and also that faith by which his satisfaction is efficaciously applied for salvation, but that He purchased no more than a power and entire willingness for the Father to enter into a new covenant with man, and to prescribe whatever conditions He might think fit; compliance with which conditions depended upon the free will of man; so that either all or none might fulfil them. Such teachers think too meanly of the death of Christ, are ignorant of its glorious fruits and blessings, and recall from hell the Pelagian heresy.”
IX. Again, if Christ died for all, then He made expiation for all their sins. He therefore must have made atonement for the sins of unbelief and final impenitence, which prevent man from applying to himself the redemption provided for him; and thus they will no longer stand in the way of such an application; for on the supposition of satisfaction having been made for them, they must be pardoned. To this it cannot rationally be objected, that the blessing will be applied, if the condition on which redemption has been procured be complied with. It implies a contradiction to talk of the condition’s being complied with, when the unbelief and impenitence are supposed to be final. It is as absurd to pretend that Christ died to atone for man’s unbelief, provided he would not be unbelieving, but believe; as to say I have found out an infallible remedy for the healing of a blind or leprous man which shall be applied on this condition, that he will not be blind nor leprous. Further a failure in fulfilling the condition cannot prevent
the application of redemption to unbelievers; for it is supposed that Christ by His death has made satisfaction for unbelief, and thus has atoned for this very failure. But, since every one must see that this cannot be affirmed of those who will not be saved, or of the reprobate; the conclusion is irresistible, that Christ did not die for them.
X. The last argument on this subject is, the absurdities that flow from the doctrine of universal atonement. If Christ died for all men universally, it will follow:Â— 1. That He died, on condition they would believe, for multitudes innumerable, to whom His death has never been made known; and hence it was impossible that they could believe. 2. That He died for those whom He knew to be children of perdition, whom God had passed by, and who would never, to all eternity, enjoy any of the fruits of His death; and so exercised ineffable love towards those whom both He and the Father will cause to suffer eternally under the effects of Their wrath.