Limited Atonement

 

“Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” Heb. 10:9-14.

 

An extremely important question that must be asked is this: What were the results, or the effects, of the death of Jesus Christ?  Another way to put the same question is this: For whom did Christ die, and what effect did the death of Christ have on them?

 

For Whom Did Christ Die?

There are only three answers to the question, “For whom did Christ die?” None, Some, or All. There are theologies that would answer the question by saying that Christ died for nobody. They would say that the nature of Christ's death was not to satisfy the wrath of God, nor to be a substitute for sinners. They deny the substitutionary death of Christ, and would make His death to be exemplary, martyrdom for truth, or some such thing. We do not say that there are not many elements in the death of Christ, but we insist with the orthodox of all ages that the primary reason for the death of Christ was for the purpose of satisfaction: to satisfy the requirements of God's law against sinners.

 

We also suspect that a main motivation for those theologians who deny that Christ died in the place of sinners, is their desire to escape the force of the following arguments.

If we reject the idea that Christ died for none, then we must admit that He either died for some, or for all.   Then we are led irresistibly to answer the question, “What was the effect of his death?” or “What good did it do?” The answer to the question concerning effect will be determined by our answer to the question concerning the scope of His death.

 

Although there are many nuances to the death of Christ, yet one thing is clear to those who accept the gospel as the good news concerning the coming of Christ into the world. If the central message of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures, then the death of Christ and the results of His death are central to the Gospel message. Our view of that message will have a profound effect on how we preach the gospel, and how we view its power.

 

What Good Did It Do?

Suppose we answer that Christ died for all men. Then we must ask the question, “What good did it do?” What was gained by the death of Christ? If we answer, “The death of Christ secured the salvation of all men,” we come into conflict with the Scripture. All men will not be saved. Jesus said Himself that in the last day, some will go away into eternal punishment, and some will go away into eternal life. But if Christ died for all men, and some of them are lost, then the question returns, “What effect is there of the death of Christ?”


 

If Christ died for men who are in hell, what good did His death do?

Some might answer, “Yes, Christ died for all men, but they must accept his love and sacrifice. If they do not accept it, then it does not do them any good, for they must receive it by faith.” On the surface, that would appear to be a satisfactory answer, and millions are satisfied to leave it at that. This was the answer of the Arminians in the Remonstrance that led to the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). But on closer examination, the answer does not really address the question.

 

If the death of Christ has no effect on the unbelief of man, then how is it effective at all? The basic ungodliness of men is expressed by their unbelief. Nothing more characterizes the wickedness of men's hearts than their unbelief, for unbelief assaults the very power and goodness of God. For me not to have faith in God is to impugn His goodness and His power. If Christ did not die to free me from unbelief, then I am not free at all. It does no good to throw a life preserver to a man dead at the bottom of the pool and then comfort yourself by saying, “He would have been saved, if only he had grabbed hold of it.”

 

If we say that Christ died for all men, rose for all men, ascended into heaven for all men, and intercedes in heaven for all men, then He is not the savior of all men, for all men will not be saved.  He may want to be their savior; He may plead with them to be their savior; but He is not their savior, for they are not saved. He is the savior only of those who are saved.  How can Christ be the Savior of those who were already in hell when He died on the cross?

 

Adding to His Provision

If Christ died for all men, then those who are saved must have added something to the death of Christ. If Christ died for all men, even those in hell, then His death really didn't save them. His death only made it possible for them to be saved on the condition of them adding faith to His sacrifice. They would have to add something, and that something added is what makes them different from those who finally ended in hell. The difference would be in them, and therefore is not completely a free gift of grace, for they had to add something to it.

 

Adding Something Is Contrary to Grace

This idea is completely contrary to the Scriptures, as we will demonstrate in the following pages. 

Hebrews 10:9-14.  (NKJV)

Then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,  from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.   For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

 

The effect of Christ’s work is to perfect forever those who are sanctified (vs. 14). “Perfect” means to bring to completion, to finish, to ripen. The sanctified ones are brought to perfection and this perfection is forever. What is the cause of this perfection? The cause is sanctification.   And what is the cause of sanctification?   The offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (vs. 10).

The whole passage is a powerful one. It begins with a council in Heaven itself. God is not pleased with the blood of bulls and goats for they cannot take away sin and cannot perfect those who bring them (vs. 1-4). The Son of God volunteers to come to do the will of the God. A body would be prepared for Him, and He would come to do the “will of God.” This “will of God” would take away the first (will—blood of bulls and goats), in order to establish the second. In other words, the offering of Christ on the cross would be the sacrifice that would replace the offering of bulls and goats. Christ’s blood would be offered only once because it would be effective to take away sins. It would really take away sins because it would “sanctify” the people (Heb. 13:12).  Not like the blood of bulls and goats, the blood of Jesus Christ would have real effect, produce real results, and bring about real godliness.  Because of the finality of His offering, the Lord Jesus, “after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.”

 

Heb. 10:15-18.  (NKJV)

But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

 

These verses continue the explanation of the power of Christ’s sacrifice.  The results of Christ's sacrifice are made plain.  The result of the death of Christ is a heart change in the people. The doctrine is clear. The sacrifice of Christ sanctified the people and perfected them forever. Hence, he did not die for all men for all men are not sanctified and perfected forever.  All men are not given new hearts to believe, trust, and obey the Lord Jesus.

 

Faith is the Gift of Grace

Eph. 2:8-10. “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

“It is the gift of God” is, literally, “God's is the gift.” The whole matter of the salvation of sinful man proceeds from the grace of God and is the gift of God. Nothing about salvation is “of yourselves.” This is the powerful contrast: is salvation “of yourselves” or is it “God's gift”? Paul powerfully answers that the saved are the “work of God,” not their own work. We did not form in ourselves the character that is pleasing to God, but we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” This workmanship of God was ordained “before,” the result of the eternal purpose and plan of God.

 

The gift of faith is only for those who are elect by God, predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  It is for these Christ died.  They will receive the gift of faith, supernatural faith, not some trumped-up, wishful thinking that has its origin in the enticing words of men's wisdom and not in the power of God (I Cor. 2:4,5).

 

Redemption and Purification

Titus 2:14: “[Our Savior Jesus Christ] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” The Greek word for “Redeem” means “to release on receipt of a ransom.” The emphasis is not on the payment or the price, but on the actually setting free.

 

There is another word which emphasizes the price, but the word in Titus 2:14 emphasizes the actually freeing. This is said to be because Christ “gave himself for us.” His giving actually sets us free, not merely removes some obstacle to us being set free. The bondage is not the possibility of some day being in hell, but from “iniquity,” which is the bondage of lawlessness, of self-will, rejecting the will of God. The doctrine is crystal clear: the suffering of Christ sets us free from our guilt and wickedness, so we are no longer under the wrath of God.

 

Enemies Are Made Friends

Romans 5:10. If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”


What was it to be an enemy of God? What can it mean but to be unbelieving, self-willed, rebellious, and contrary? What is it that changed us? Whatever the proximate causes of our reconciliation with God, Paul traces the reconciliation up to its first fountain: “the death of his Son.” The sacrifice of Christ is not just a beautiful story which might or might not have an effect or me.  No, it is a mighty power that is working in those who believe: their very faith is the evidence of its power and the evidence of their election to eternal life. Anything else debases the gospel and leaves but husks and rags in our hands, for of such is our own righteousness.

 

Reconciled through Death

Colossians 1:21,22: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight....”

 

Our alienation and enmity in our minds toward God is indeed our very bondage.  This alienation and enmity is revealed through our wicked works.  The alienation and enmity are the very crux of the matter, and are the very bondage from which we need to be freed.  This passage is very clear.  It is the death of Christ that reconciles us from the alienation and enmity in our minds through wicked works.  The danger the Colossian church faced was to be moved from this gospel into trust in their own works and their own powers. Paul warns of this removal from Christ and says this salvation is for those who “continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (vs. 23). The faith which saves is the faith that has its origin and power in Jesus Christ, not some vain imagination devised by men, which puffs men up and flatters them in their “natural ability.” Such a faith would be evidence of reprobation, not election to eternal life. The activity of maggots in the carcass is certainly lively, but not the evidence of health in the body.

 

The Express Purpose of the Death of Christ

John 17:9 “I pray for them, I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.”

 

Christ death is the foundation of His prayers. He does not take the blood of bulls and goats into the presence of God to make intercession for us: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (Heb. 9:12) His intercession is in terms of His sacrifice.  What fearful words are these for the ungodly!! “I pray not for the world.” If Christ does not pray for us, we have no hope. If we are not included in His intercession, we are most miserable. But what could be clearer? There are those for whom Christ does not pray. They have no part in his sacrifice, no part in the church, no part in the atonement. They are yet in their sins, and in their sins they will die, bearing the weight of the wrath of God, without hope and without God. What a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! They are of the world, they seek their reward from the world, and live only for the world. They care not for Jesus Christ or His blood, for they are bound in unbelief and iniquity.

 

How different are those who belong to Christ! “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” --1Pet. 2:24.

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[Note: Other passages that deal with this great subject are: Psalm 22:1-20; Heb. 12:1,2; Matt. 1:21; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 5:25-27; Romans 5:10; 2Cor. 5:18,19; Rom. 3:23-25; 1John 1:7; Heb. 13:12; Gal. 4:4,5; Eph.1:14. The fundamental idea in all these passages is that the death of Christ is the cause of our being delivered from sin itself, not merely the penalty of sin. If the death of Christ was designed to deliver us from sin, how can the cause of deliverance rise within ourselves in any way?  Sin is a tyrant of such great strength that we could not deliver ourselves. Hence, those for whom Christ died must be delivered from sin if they are to be saved.  Otherwise, the death of Christ is futility.]