TULIP: Limited Atonement, 2

Intro | Total Hereditary Depravity 1 | Total Hereditary Depravity 2 | Unconditional Election 1 | Unconditional Election 2 | Limited Atonement 1 | Limited Atonement 2 | Irresistible Grace 1 | Irresistible Grace 2 | Perseverance of the Saints 1 | Perseverance of the Saints 2tulip

by William J. Stewart

The proponents of Calvin’s doctrine of limited atonement believe that the Bible supports the teaching. Herein we will look at some of the texts which are used as proof.

Matthew 20:28
“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Was Jesus limiting the scope of atonement in this text? Saying that many (not all) will be ransomed is not the same as saying the atonement is not available to all. As we noted last week, the grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to all (Titus 2:11), but not all are willing to deny ungodliness and live righteously (v 12).

Paul uses this word “many” in the Roman letter. Consider:

…by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)

The Calvinist will gladly say the latter part of this text limits the scope of atonement. Many, not all, right? If that is the case, what about the first clause? Did sin only come to many, not all? Is that not what Paul said?

As we have discussed previously, association with both Adam and Christ in Romans 5 is based on imitation. Those who did as Adam did (disobedience) were made sinners; those who did as Jesus did (obedience) were made righteous.

Acts 20:28
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

The Calvinist will tell us, “See, Jesus didn’t die for all; His blood was shed to purchase the church.” Indeed, that is what the apostle Paul said. And in that sense, the atonement that is available is limited—not that all are not able to access it, but that one must be in the Lord’s church to access it. But, all are able to be added to His church. Hebrews 5:8-9 says that Jesus is the Saviour of all who will obey Him. Those who obey His word will be added to the church (Acts 2:37-41, 47). Atonement is available to all who will come, but not all are willing to come.

Matthew 1:21
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

See it? He won’t save everyone; He will save His people. But who are “His people”? As we just noticed above, He died to purchase the church (the gathering of the saved). Though that is an exclusive group, entrance is not given to a predetermined people and withheld from others. All who will obey the gospel are added to the Lord’s church, and are thus His people.

John 15:13
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

I guess the argument is that Jesus only died for His friends, not for everyone. One verse later, He tells the apostles, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (v 15). Doing the will of God is what makes us a friend of Jesus. And we are able to choose the will of God over the will of the devil (Genesis 4:7).

Furthermore, consider what Paul said about us and our relationship to the Christ:

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10)

We were not always friends of Jesus. We at one time were enemies—in fact, when He died for us, we were enemies. Jesus’ statement in John 15 doesn’t contradict Paul’s in Romans 5; Jesus personalized His death for the disciples (“You are My friends…”), but that doesn’t exclude others who would afterward become His friends by obeying Him.

John 17:9
“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”

Who is “them” in the context? From verse 6-12, it is evident that He is speaking about the apostles. Does the Calvinist mean by appealing to this text that only the apostles were saved? That would exclude every modern day Calvinist (indeed, every Calvinist period, since there were no Calvinists among the apostles).

But Jesus said He didn’t pray for the world, that must be a sign that they are sinful reprobates, for whom He did not die, right? Later in the same context, we read:

As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world… I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in e, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:18, 20-21)

His prayer was specifically for the apostles in verse 9, but in verse 20, He prayed also for those who would believe through the message they brought. Where would these new believers come from? The intent of the message proclaimed is “…that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

Romans 9:13
“As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’”

This text is used by Calvinists to reveal that God’s love for His chosen is not the same as His general kindness toward creation. He had a special love for Jacob which He did not have for Esau. In his Fives Points of Calvinism, John Gill writes:

…it is a special and discriminating love, the favor which he bears to His own people, as distinct from others.

Does that not sound a lot like favouritism, or as the Bible would call it, partiality? And yet the Scriptures reveal that God is not partial (Romans 2:11; 9:13; Acts 10:34-35).

The individual salvation of Jacob and Esau was not at issue, but the choice of a nation (Genesis 25:23). The quote is from Malachi 1:2-3, and refers to the nations, not the men. This is about the completion of God’s plan, not individual salvation.

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