Puritan Gems

Friday, October 06, 2006

It is Finished! - The Atoning work of Christ

"He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:11)

"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." (Hebrews 9:12)

In these passages, we have both the intent and the accomplishment of the Atoning Work of our Savior. It is important to see that Christ's work on Calvary was a purposeful means to a purposeful end, and that end being the eternal redemption of His people, justifying many and bearing their iniquities.

In a recent debate I had with a dear "non-Calvinist" brother B.W., I found it profitable to dig through my library and pull out a classic, John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Owen really exhausts the arguments concerning the actual redemption obtained by Christ at Calvary. It is a must read for anyone who is serious about the theology of the Bible, regardless of your position. The introduction by J.I. Packer is worth the price alone. This article is a very brief summary of Owen’s main arguments in defense of Particular Redemption, otherwise known commonly as Limited Atonement.

The Doctrine of Universal Redemption, ever popular in today's churches, is unscriptural as well as illogical. While it sounds pleasing to the ear to hear that "Christ died for everybody", what it in fact teaches is that Christ's work on the Cross was effectual in the salvation of nobody. Thus the "plan" of redemption is really no plan at all, but rather a hopeful possibility. Our Savior, rather than being satisfied with His work, would be most disappointed to find that His precious blood was indeed absolutely worthless to the vast majority for which it was intended. For we have His own words that there will be many goats on His left hand who will be cast "into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and His angels" (Matthew 25:41).

We can establish the proper doctrine of the atonement by looking at,

1.) The Intention of Christ

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4). To what end was this done, but “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5)? This was the intent of Christ at His death, to “justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11). Those who hold to some sort of universal redemption must actually deny that anyone was actually redeemed by the blood of Christ. Redemption (apolutrōsis aπολύτρωσις) means "ransom in full, that is, riddance, or Christian salvation: - deliverance." Thus a "universal redemption" being defined as a potential redemption is really no redemption at all. At the announcement of Christ's birth, it was said that “He shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Christ came to seek and to save what was lost (Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10), to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). How this is compatible with the idea of Universal Redemption I know not. For the idea of universal redemption requires that either:

1.) All people will be saved (Universal Salvation), or

2.) Christ failed in His mission, not actually saving His people (the whole world without exception) from their sins.

Christ died for His people, those whom He predestined, that He might be the firstborn of many brethren (Romans 8:29). He died for the children who "share in flesh and blood, (therefore) he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Thus He “abolish[ed] death, and to bring life and immortality to light" (2 Timothy 1:10). Can it rightly be said that Christ intended this for every person on planet earth? Will anyone claim that Christ intended to deliver every person from the Second Death, including many who have already gone to hell prior to His incarnation? What was the intent of Christ’s death, but to “sanctify and cleanse His Church” (Romans 5:25-27), and to "make and end of sins, reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 9:24)? He came to “bear our sins" (1 Peter 2:24), to "bear our iniquities, and to have them laid upon him" (Isaiah 53:5-12). Therefore, He “sanctified Himself, that they (those who the Father had given Him) also might be sanctified through the truth." (John 17:17-19)

2.) The Effect of Christ's work

Having examined the intention of Christ, we now address the question, "did He successfully complete His mission?" When Christ hung in agony, bearing the sins of many, He claimed "It is finished" (John 19:30). In His own words, He came "to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." (John 4:34). We'll examine "the will of the Father shortly", but for now we'll address the actual completion of Christ's work. If, in fact, Christ went to the cross to save every single person on planet earth, then it is a common observation that He failed in His mission. His work apparently did not accomplish what He intended. (For those who reject the term "Limited Atonement", who is limiting it now?) However, as we have established previously, Christ work was to save His people. As a result of Christ's completed work, We have actual redemption (Romans 1:7), for He "purchased the church with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).

Those who oppose us would have us believe that the millions of souls currently burning in Hell are just as much bought with the blood of Christ as His saints. How does this square with the actual accomplishment of Christ's work, who "gave himself to us to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar (chosen) people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14)? "He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking ... his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12)1, so "...that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Hast this been accomplished for every single person on the planet? Who did Christ "secure an eternal redemption" for? Everyone? If Christ has secured an eternal redemption, how can such ever end up in Hell? Is our "free will" more powerful that Christ's redemption? Again, Christ came to “lay down His life for His Sheep…to give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:11, John 10:27-28). "He redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13), to “purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God." (Hebrews 9:14). This was the completed, effectual work of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. Can it be rightly said by anyone that Christ did this for every person who ever lived? In elevating the power of man's will, it is actually our opponents who "limit" the atonement.

3.) The Will of the Father

We established earlier that Christ came not to do is own will, but "to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." (John 4:34). What was that will of the Father, and did Christ indeed finish the work? Romans 8:28 tells us that God predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son. Why? So "that He might be the firstborn among many brethren". Yet if this predestination was "contingent" upon human freedom, then how could the Father be sure that His Son would be the firstborn of many brethren? If those who oppose the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace are correct, then it would be entirely possible for the precious blood of Jesus to have saved no one. Christ could have died in vain, unless His death was actually a purposeful means to a purposeful end; that end being the actual salvation of His elect. Thus, the idea of "universal" atonement is really no atonement at all. It becomes a mere "ointment in a box" that becomes effective only when this box is open and applied by someone of their own virtuous resources. Woe then be to those who are not so inclined to do so. For is seems to be that Christ, despite His best efforts, is unable to overcome the wills of those who aren't, in their own natures, already bent towards Him. So much for John 5:21.

The fact is that it was never, at any time, God's intention to save every person on planet earth. We established that clearly when we discussed the Biblical Doctrine of Predestination. God's will was the purposeful salvation of His people, thus Christ came to “[give] himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" (Galatians 1:4).

4.) The Purpose of Jesus' Parables

"And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10).

What are we to take from this passage in light of Christ's intent? Did He actually hide His kingdom from the Pharisees? What sayeth the Scriptures? When Jesus was asked by His disciples why He spoke in parables, He answered, "because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given" (Matthew 13:10-11). In contrast to this, Jesus told His disciples that "... it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). Why did God hide these things from the "prudent" Pharisees? In case that "at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them" (Matthew 13:15). Obviously, the pharisees cannot choose what they cannot see (John 3:3). They "were disobedient to the word, to which they were appointed" (1 Peter 2:8). Let our opponents explain away all that they wish by interjecting the "free will" of the pharisees. The Bible explanation is the only one we need, "..even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Luke 10:21).

5.) The Intercession of Christ

"...Ask of me, and I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession," (Psalm 2:7-8).

What was the inheritance that Christ was promised by the Father? The nations. Christ was promised an inheritance that He alone chose (Psalm 33:12). Did God the Father fail to keep His promise? We know that Christ "makes intercession for us" (Romans 8:34), and that He is always heard of the Father (John 11:41-42). Who does Christ make intercession for? Does Christ pray for everyone? What saith the Scriptures?

"I am praying for them (that you gave me - John 17:8). I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours". (John 17:9).

Christ does not pray for the world, but only for those whom that Father has given Him. Since He is always heard of the Father, "All the Father gives shall come" (John 6:37)

The Lord's Supper, the continuing sign and seal of the new covenant itself, testifies to this fact.

"And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28)


Christ blood was not for a "general ransom" for every person on planet earth, but was poured out for many, and unto the actual remission of their sins. The salvation provided by Christ was not abstract and universal, but particular and personal. God tells us over and over again in His Word, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy." In response to this, Paul deals with a couple of questions in Romans 9.

Romans 9:14
"What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?"

Romans 9:19
"You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?""

The question I have for my opponents to consider for now is, "Does your view of the Atonement prompt such questions?" If not, then it probably doesn't agree with Paul's view.


1.) ”The Lord is ... not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)

This would be a big problem for Limited Atonement, if this is actually what the verse said. What it actually says is...

2 Peter 3:9
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

The promise and the patience is “toward us”, not to every person on planet earth. Who is "us"? Who is Peter writing to?

2 Peter 1:1
"Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:"

Peter is writing this to the elect, "To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ". This verse is absolutely true. God is not willing that any of his elect should perish, but that all of them should come to repentance. And they will, as we have already established in dealing with the intercession of Christ.

2.) Christ is said to have died for "the whole world" (1 John 2:2) or "all men" (1 Timothy 2:4).

It can readily be established that these phrases are rarely used in a universal sense, not only in Scripture, but in normal everyday usage. These words were usually spoken (John 3:16) or written to Jewish believers to explain that the Messiah wasn't just a Messiah for Jews, but for "the whole world", ie. "all men without distinction" rather than "all men without exception". 1 John 2:7 says, "Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning", suggesting that John was writing this epistle to Jewish Christians, who had the Old Commandment from the beginning. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul is clearly defending his ministry to the gentiles (1 Timothy 2:7).

The biggest problem with interpreting such phrases universally is that doing so would result in universal salvation. For example, if “the world” in 2 Corinthians 5:19 were taken to mean every single person who ever lived, then we would have to believe that God through Christ has reconciled every single person who ever lived to Himself, ie. universal salvation. The same would apply to 1 John 2:2, where Christ is the propitiation for the sins of every person who ever lived, in which case God would be unjust in punishing anyone for sins after He has already punished Christ for them. Likewise, if “all men” in Romans 5:18 were taken to mean all men without exception, as opposed to all types of men, then we would be force to conclude that “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” without exception. This idea, however, is refuted in the very next verse (as well as a plethora of other Scriptures.)

Christ died for His Sheep, His church, and His elect. Christ’s work on the cross was effective in providing actual, not potential, redemption, abolishing death (2 Timothy 1:10), in order to “sanctify and cleanse His Church” (Romans 5:25-27). He bore our iniquities (Isaiah 53:11), and paid the ransom for many. Christ’s work of atonement is finished, and it saves all that it intended to save.

For further study, I would recommend the following:

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen
Particular Redemption by Charles Spurgeon


1 Compare
Hebrews 9:12 with Arminius’ statement that “Christ did not give himself for them as the price of redemption; for the action of Christ is confounded with its result, and the application of benefits with their obtainment.” As with the Doctrine of Original Sin, most modern “Arminians” are shocked to learn that the founders of their faith rejected the idea that Christ paid for their sins.

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