TULIP – The Third Point: (L) Limited Atonement

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2013
Thus far the first two points Total Depravity and Unconditional Election have given evidence of the logical approach of the five points of Calvinism. Man is totally unable to believe in Christ until he is regenerated by God; thus, it follows that God must have planned, by his own decree, apart from man’s will, to elect a certain group of humans to be saved. Next, the Third logical Point must be Limited Atonement, for Christ would only provide salvation for those who were elected by God.

The Third Point: (L) Limited Atonement

Thus far the first two points Total Depravity and Unconditional Election have given evidence of the logical approach of the five points of Calvinism. Man is totally unable to believe in Christ until he is regenerated by God; thus, it follows that God must have planned, by his own decree, apart from man’s will, to elect a certain group of humans to be saved. Next, the Third logical Point must be Limited Atonement, for Christ would only provide salvation for those who were elected by God. It would be illogical and unnecessary to atone for the sins of even one person who would never be saved. How do the Canons of Dordt approach this third point?

One would expect this Third Point, L, Limited Atonement, to be the same Point in the Canons of Dordt, but once again, it is different, being considered as their Second Point: Christ’s Death and Human Redemption.

In Articles 1 and 2, the justice of God and the satisfaction of His Justice are briefly stated. Article 3 continues: “This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.”

Article 5: “Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.”

Article 8: “It was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity and given to him by the Father, that he should grant them faith… that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual.”

Sufficient articles have been quoted indicating the Synod of Dordt believed:

  1. That Christ’s death was sufficient for the sins of the world, but,
  2. That Christ’s death was provided for the elect and the elect only, and
  3. That only these elect would be granted the gift of faith enabling them only to believe.

There are points of agreement:

  1. Not all mankind will be saved; many will reject Christ and be lost forever.
  2. Christ’s death and resurrection are the only means of salvation.
  3. The gospel must be preached to all; no one knows who will be saved.
  4. No one is born forgiven or justified; even the elect must accept Christ in order to be saved.

There are points of difference:

  1. The question of provision: Was salvation provided for the elect only or for the whole world of mankind?
  2. The question of availability: Is it possible for any given person to believe and be saved? We have previously discussed this difference, and concluded that men are condemned on the ground that they refuse to believe in that which has been provided for them according to John 3:18. But how could they refuse something which was provided for the elect only? Likewise, how can the non elect be condemned for not believing something which was not provided for them in the first place?

The finished work of Christ includes three great doctrines which are presented as unlimited.

1. Unlimited redemption of sin. 2 Peter 2:1 “But there were false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord that bought (agorasantas) them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” The word agorasantas is the aorist masculine participle from agoradzo, “to redeem from the market place.” The agora was also the place where slaves were purchased. All humanity, since the Fall of Adam and Eve, are in the slave-market of sin (Romans 7:14) but Christ paid the ransom, not only for the elect (I Corinthians 6:20) but for these ungodly men referred to in 2 Peter 2:1, whose end is destruction as verses 2-12 describe. Yet, they are described as denying the Lord who redeemed them!!

2. Unlimited Reconciliation of man. 2 Corinthians 5:19 “To wit, that God was in Christ reconciling (katallasson, aorist masculine participle) the world (kosmon, note that he did not say the elect, nor even the world of the elect, but the world!) unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”

3. Unlimited propitiation or satisfaction of God’s righteousness. 1 John 2:1-2 “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; And he is the propitiation (hilasmos, the satisfaction) for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (holou tou kosmou).” John Calvin himself vacillated on this passage, and Mark 14:24. On 1 John 2:1-2 he commented,

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was none other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all, or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.

From this it would indicate Calvin’s belief in Limited Atonement. But his comment on Mark 14:24 is wider: “This is my blood of the new testament which is shed for many.” This word many does not mean a part of the world only, but the whole human race.” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. III, p. 139, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972.)

Finally, in Calvin’s Last Will and Testament, April 25, 1564: “I testify also and declare, that I suppliantly beg of Him, that He may be pleased so to wash and purify me in the blood which my Sovereign Redeemer has shed for the sins of the human race, that under His shadow I may be able to stand at the judgment seat” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8, p. 829; by Philip Schaff; Eerdmans, 1972. These two later quotations seem to indicate a belief in Unlimited Atonement on the part of John Calvin!!

From the finished work of Christ, then, it is apparent that He actually paid the price (redemption) for the sins of the whole world, made reconciliation of man to God for the sins of the whole world, and became the satisfaction (propitiation) of the righteousness of God for the sins of the whole world. Yet, the Canons of Dordt never once refers to any of these Scriptures!! What they do make certain to emphasize, is that Christ died “as a ransom for many” (Isaiah 53:11-12; Matthew 20:28); that He died for the sheep (John 10:15), for His friends (John 15:13; for a group called “his own given to Him by the Father. The simple answer to this is that, though there are a number of verses which emphasize the death of Christ for the elect, it does not follow that He excluded others from the provision of salvation. Other passages cannot and should not be compressed into this mold. This would be about as ridiculous as to quote Galatians 2:20 where Paul says “the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me,” and conclude that because Paul is the only one mentioned here, that Christ died only for Paul!

But there are more verses:

Hebrews 2:9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that he, by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (huper pantos “for every one”).
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; And that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live for themselves, but unto him that died for them and rose again.” These two verses have both the elect, as well as the non elect listed. It does not mean that Christ merely died for all of the elect!
Luke 19:10 “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Since the whole human race was lost in sin by the Fall of Adam and Eve, Christ died for the whole human race!

It was sad to notice that in the first verse of Fanny Crosby’s beloved Hymn, To God be the Glory, the word “all” has been changed to the word “we” in order to comply with this Third Point, Limited Atonement, in the Trinity Hymnal, published by Great Commission Publications, 1990, p. 55, as follows:

To God be the glory, great things He has done,
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son;
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin
And opened the life gate that we may go in.”

I wonder why they did not change the words “So loved He the world” to reflect their doctrine as well?? Perhaps, in their thinking, the word “world” means the world of the elect?? Would it not have been just a little more on the ethical side to have omitted the hymn from their hymnal?

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