A thought provoking
introduction to the extent of the Atonement:
by 2012 by Jack Kettler
The doctrine of limited atonement or particular redemption will be the focus of this brief
introductory and hopefully thought provoking look at the extent of Christ's atonement. The
doctrine of limited atonement may be an emotional shock to some. Unfortunately, it is
usually the case, that those who disagree with the Biblical doctrine of limited atonement,
assume their position to be true and then fall back on emotionalism when challenged. What
must be determined however, is if this teaching is Scriptural? At the end of this study, I
will provide links to classic Reformed studies on this topic that will provide meat for
the serious student of God's Word.
The word atonement covers words that we find in Scripture such as redemption, redeem,
purchase, satisfy, propitiation, and ransom. In addition, theologians use the word
substitutionary or vicarious to describe Christs atonement.
Atonement in essence means acting on behalf of or representing another. At the most
fundamental level, God has acted to bring reconciliation and salvation to lost sinners.
Was this atonement universal in scope or limited? Does Christ's atoning death save
everyone? Or, is the atonement limited in scope, only to those who believe? If you believe
that Christ's death was universal in scope, you are forced to limit its effectiveness to
actually save anyone.
Did Christ die for everyone's sins on the cross? Many modern day evangelicals would
"yes" to this. When asked, does this mean that everyone will go to heaven, they
say emphatically no, because not everyone has faith. Is this lack of faith or unbelief a
sin? If so, is it a sin that Christ died for on the cross? If this sin of unbelief is a
sin along with all other sins that were atoned for by Christ's death, surely, this means
that everyone is going to heaven? If you would say no, not everyone is not going to
heaven, then you must answer, what sins are still unaccounted for that would prevent
someone from going to heaven? Again, is unbelief a sin that Christ died for, or not? A
person who believes in a universal unlimited atonement is trapped in an inescapable circle
of un-biblical thought and robs the Biblical words that cover the concept of the atonement
of all meaning. In essence, the system of universal atonement, however emotionally
pleasing as it may sound, saves no one.
The atonement is a historic fact. It is something that is objectively real. It is a
completed accomplished fact. The atonement has a specific design to it. It is limited to
whom it is designed for. The atonement is effective to save those to whom it was intended.
Limited atonement or particular redemption expresses the Biblical concept that Christ's
redeeming work was intended to save God's elect, and actually secures salvation for them,
not just hypothetically.
The famous Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, makes a strong case for
limited atonement by exposing the affront to Divine justice universal atonement implies:
Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, "It is so
beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends
itself," they say, "to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full
of joy and beauty." I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with
falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I
will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended
to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before he died. If the
doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before
He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been
cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ's intention to save all men,
how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a
lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some
of the very person who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with
His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those
consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine
of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or
are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment
that He was the substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished
the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my
ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the
sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the
sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity
that could ever be imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the
most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the
just and wise and good!(1)
The following Scriptures establish what is
known as particular or definite redemption:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was
bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with
his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:4,5 (underlining emphasis mine)
Christ was wounded for our transgressions, not everyone's.
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.
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with
the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the
transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the
transgressors. Isaiah 53:11,12
We see clear qualifiers in these two passages that restrict Christ's death, using words
like many (not all) bare their (again, not all).
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save
his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21
Matthew could not be more clear, Jesus shall save his people. Jesus
effectively paid for the sins of His people.
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his
life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28
The Son of man came to be a ransom for many (not all).
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission
of sins. Matthew 26:28
And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
In this two passages, Christ says His blood is shed for many (not everyone). If
Christ's atonement was universal this type of restrictive language makes no sense.
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father
knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. John
Christ lays down His life for the sheep, not the goats.
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they
were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word....I pray for them: I pray
not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine....And
all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them....And for their sakes
I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth....Neither
pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their
word....Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I
am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before
the foundation of the world. John 17:6,9,10,19,20,24
Christ's high priestly intercessory prayer is for those (they) whom the Father had given
Him. Not each and every last person who has ever lived or will live.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and
as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48
Only those who were ordained to eternal life believed. Christ's atoning sacrifice
was intended for and effective for those who were ordained to eternal life.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which The Holy Ghost
hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his
own blood. Acts 20:28
The Church, not the world was purchased with his own blood.
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us [elect] all, how shall
he not with him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32
God delivered up his Son for us all, the elect.
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained
before the world unto our glory. 1 Corinthians 2:7
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the
righteousness of God in him. II Corinthians 5:21
Christ bears the sins of His people by actually paying for our sins to the satisfaction of
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to
the riches of his grace. Ephesians 1:7
Our redemption involves the delivering us from our sins. Christ's blood was the redemption
price that paid for our salvation according to the riches of his grace. This redemption is
real and effective for those for whom it was intended.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ, also loved the church, and gave
himself for it. Ephesians 5:25
Christ gave himself for the His Church, not everyone indiscriminately.
As noted in the underlining from the above Scriptural passages, it is quite clear that the
design of the atonement was limited. Christ is said to have died for His people, i.e. the
church. In John chapter seventeen, the intercessory prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ was
restricted to His people. It was not a universal prayer for every person on earth.
An Objection to this teaching:
The most common argument against the doctrine of limited atonement are passages that speak
of Christs atoning death in a universal sense. Some passages of this nature are
where the apostle says; And he is the propitiation for our: and not for ours only, but
also for the sins of the whole world in 1 John 2:2. The apostle also tells us that
Jesus is called the Saviour of the world in John 4:42, and in another passage; The
next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh
away the sin of the world John 1:29. The apostle Paul, also appears to suggest a
universal view of the atonement when he says: Who gave himself a ransom for all 1
It should be noted, that these verses are easily found to be in harmony with other
passages that support the doctrine of limited atonement by understanding that the
Scriptures use the words; world, or all in a
restricted or qualified sense. There is nothing in the larger context of Scripture that
demands these passages have to mean every person in the whole world. This is unmistakable,
especially when other Scriptural passages are taken into account that act as qualifiers.
For example, we see that; And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a
decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed Luke 2:1, And all
went to be taxed, every one into his own city Luke 2:3. Obviously, these passages
could not be talking about every individual in the whole world. This decree of Caesar did
not pertain to the indigenous Indians in the Americas and to those in Africa. To think so,
would be absurd.
Moreover, when the Pharisees said; Do you see how you can do nothing? behold, the
world is gone after him in John 12:19, can anyone maintain that every person in the
world went after or followed Christ? Clearly, there is a restriction or limit to the word
world. The word world by the context has to be
limited to what happening in the nation of Israel during the First-Century. It should be
abundantly clear that the word or phrases all or all the
world does not mean every person on the planet. These types of objections fail
to mitigate against the doctrine of limited atonement because it takes certain words out
of context by forcing an absolute universal meaning onto the words.
In the beginning, I raised the question, did Jesus die for everyone's sins, and how
everyone who affirms this is trapped into a circle of contradictory thought by saying that
non-belief keeps men from going to heaven even though Christ died for the sin of
non-belief. The Puritan, John Owen, raised these questions with far greater precision,
which proves the atonement properly understood could not be universal in scope, and if so,
efficient to save anyone. I would encourage those who doubt this teaching on the extent of
the atonement to read John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ
This work has never been refuted by any type of universalist, Arminian, Semi-Pelagian.
Consider just one of John Owen's arguments:
The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the
Son underwent punishment for, either:
1. All the sins of all men.
2. All the sins of some men, or
3. Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all
the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their
You answer, Because of unbelief.
I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment
due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other
sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins! The Death
of Death in the Death of Christ pp. 173, 174.
It may be objected that this is a logical argument. I
would respond by saying, so what? It should be noted that this objection does not disprove
the argument, it is simply question begging. Owen's work is the most thorough Biblical
examination of the extent of the atonement on this subject ever printed. The claims of
ignorance by Arminian, Semi-Pelagians concerning the existence of this work and this
particular argument is not a substitute for refuting it.
In conclusion, in can be said that the atonement is limited by God who determines that
certain ones will be saved as a result of His election. God determined that Christ should
die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected and Christ died for will be saved or as
stated: Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified,
adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. (Chapter 3, paragraph 6 of the
Westminster Confession of Faith)
1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2 Volumes, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust,
The serious reader should take advantage of the material that can be accessed at
the following links:
The classic and important
Introductory Essay to John Owens The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by
theologian J. I. Packer.
Download a copy of John
Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ in PDF file format.
PROPITIATION IN I JOHN 2:2 (A Doctrinal
Study on the Extent of the Atonement) by Dr. Gary D. Long.
Redemption audio lecture by Dr. Cornelis Venema.
Mr. Kettler is an ordained Presbyterian Elder and the owner of http://www.Undergroundnotes.com where his
theological, philosophical and political articles can be read. He has worked in corporate
America for over 30 years and is now realizing his dreams as a successful home business