Excerpt from A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. by Robert Reymond
The Particularistic Vocabulary of Scripture
The Scriptures themselves particularize who it is for whom Christ died. The beneficiaries of Christ’s cross work are denominated in the following ways: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah,” that is, the church or “true Israel” (Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15); his “people” (Matt. 1:21); his “friends” (John 15:13); his “sheep” (John 10:11, 15); his “body,” the “church” (Eph. 5:23–26; Acts 20:28); the “elect” (Rom. 8:32–34); the “many” (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Mark 10:45); “us” (Tit. 2:14); and “me” (Gal. 2:20).
It is true, of course, that logically a statement of particularity in itself does not necessarily preclude universality. This may be shown by the principle of subalternation in Aristotelian logic, which states that if all S is P, then it may be inferred that some S is P, but conversely, it cannot be inferred from the fact that some S is P that the remainder of S is not P. A case in point is the “me” of Galatians 2:20: the fact that Christ died for Paul individually does not mean that Christ died only for Paul and for no one else.
But it should also be evident that one of these particularizing terms—the “elect”—clearly carries with it the implication that some are excluded from the saving intention and salvific work of Christ. And certain details in the other passages suggest that the designated people for whom Christ died stand in a divinely distinguished gracious relationship to him different in kind from the relationship in which other people stand to him, because of which relationship he did his cross work for them. For example, Christ declared that he, as the good Shepherd, would lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 15). But how does it come about that one is his sheep? By believing on him? Not at all. Jesus said to the Jews, not (as it is often represented): “You are not my sheep because you do not believe,” but: “You do not believe because [ὅτι, hoti] you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to [believe] my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26–27).6 From this we may infer that unless one is already in some sense one of his sheep he does not believe, and also that it is because one is already in some sense one of his sheep that he believes on him. But if one is already in some sense one of his sheep prior to faith, on the basis of which prior “shepherd-sheep” relationship Christ does his cross work for the sheep and the sheep in turn believes on him, then that relationship itself can only be the result of distinguishing grace and thus a relationship different from that which the others sustain to him.
Another example is Ephesians 5:25, where Paul teaches, first, that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. From this juxtaposition of these two verbs, it may be inferred both that the church enjoyed a special existence and a standing before Christ such that he “loved” her prior to his “giving” himself for it, and that his love for his church was the motivating power behind his “giving” himself for it. Second, Paul teaches that the husband is to love his wife just as (καθὼς, kathōs) Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. But if Christ does not love his church in a special way, different in kind from the way he loves all other people, and if the husband is to love his wife just as Christ loved the church, then the husband is to love all other women in the same way that he loves his wife—surely a grotesque ethic! For Paul’s comparison to have any meaning for his readers, Christ’s love for his church must be construed as a special particularizing, distinguishing love.
Hence the particularizing terms can and do indicate an exclusive group for whom Christ died, a fact which proponents of a universal atonement can deny only by ignoring details in the contexts in which the particularizing terms occur.
God’s Redemptive Love Not Inclusive of Fallen Angels
It is clear that the Triune God’s redemptive love is not unlimited or universal from the undeniable fact that it does not embrace fallen angels (Heb. 2:16). There are “elect angels” (1 Tim. 5:21) who clearly were elected on supra-lapsarian grounds since they were not chosen from a mass of angels viewed as fallen, and accordingly there are fallen angels concerning whose redemption no divine efforts have been or will be expended, although they are creatures as much in need of redemption as are fallen men (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). It is freely granted that the fallen angels belong to a different creation order from that of humankind and that God has sovereignly determined to deal with (at least some) fallen people differently from the manner in which he has dealt with fallen angels. But the nonredemptive nature of his dealings with fallen angels raises the possibility at least that God’s redemptive love for fallen humanity may not necessarily be unlimited and universal either.
The Irreversible Condition of Lost Men Already in Hell When Christ Died
Unless one is prepared to say that Christ gave all the dead a second chance to repent (some would say a “first chance”), it is impossible to suppose that Christ died with the intention of saving those whose eternal destiny had already been sealed in death, who were at the time of his death already in hell. He clearly did not die with the intention of saving them.
Through erroneous exegesis of Ephesians 4:8–10 and 1 Peter 3:19, some expositors urge that all these dead were given a chance to repent after Christ died, but the author of Hebrews disputes this by the unqualified teaching: “it is appointed unto men once to die and after this [that is, after death] comes the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
Jesus’ teaching in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus also strongly suggests that one’s destiny after death is irreversibly final: a “great chasm has been fixed [ἐστήρικται, estēriktai, the perfect passive of στηρίζω, stērizō, means “has been firmly fixed and stands permanently so”], in order that … none may cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26). Clearly, the weight of Scripture testimony is against the “second– [or “first–”] chance” doctrine. Accordingly, Christ did not die for everyone.
The Limited Number of People, by Divine Arrangement, Who Actually Hear the Gospel
It is difficult to believe that the Triune God intended Christ’s death for every man, woman and child, the blessing of which is enjoyed upon condition that they believe in him, when he has not arranged for everyone to hear the gospel. While it is true that Christ has commanded his church to carry the gospel to the nations, it is equally true that many people throughout the course of the centuries have lived and died in spiritual darkness, never having heard the gospel. And the biblical evidence would indicate that God, by determining as he has the recipients of special revelation and by governing the geographic directions of missionary history, determined that some people would not hear the gospel. For example, throughout Israel’s history in the Old Testament, God related himself to that nation in a way which he never did to any of the Gentile nations. He left the Gentile nations “alienated from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Throughout Old Testament times he “let all the nations go their own way” (Acts 14:16) and “overlooked their ignorance” in the sense that he did nothing directly to overcome it (Acts 17:30). Exclusively to Israel did God entrust the oracles of God (Rom. 3:1–2). And the Psalmist even evokes praise to the Lord because “he has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the Lord” (Ps. 147:19–20). Furthermore, God adopted only Israel as his son (Rom. 9:4). As God declared to Israel through Amos: “You only have I known [“loved covenantally”], of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). Accordingly, in their midst alone the Shekinah presence of God dwelt. With them he made his covenants, to them he revealed his law, they alone possessed the temple services which instructed them in the salvific ways of God and the promises of God, and theirs were the patriarchs and from them came the Messiah according to the flesh, who is over all, the ever–blessed God (Rom. 9:4–5). During his earthly ministry Christ praised his Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, that he had hidden the gospel mysteries from the wise and learned and had revealed them to “little children” (Matt. 11:25), tracing his Father’s actions to his good pleasure (11:26). He also declared that only those to whom he reveals the Father know him (11:27). On his second missionary journey, Paul and his companions “passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas” (Acts 16:6–8). As a result the gospel spread westward into Europe and not eastward toward Asia, and many Asians died never having heard of Christ. Clearly, the matter of who hears the gospel is under the providential governance of the sovereign God, and he has so arranged gospel history that many people will never hear about Christ. It is unthinkable to suppose then that God sent his Son to save people who, by the ordering of his own providence, never hear the gospel in order that they may believe and be saved. 7
Christ’s High-Priestly Work Restricted to the Elect
It is highly unlikely that Christ’s high-priestly work of sacrifice and intercession, two parts of one harmonious work, would be carried out with different objects in view—the former (the sacrifice) for all mankind, the latter (the intercession) for only some people. Since Jesus expressly declared that his intercessory work is conducted not in behalf of the world but for the elect (“I am not praying for the world,” he said, “but for those you [the Father] have given me,” and later he prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” [John 17:9, 20; see Luke 22:31–32], that is, for God’s elect [see Rom. 8:32–34]), consistency of purpose demands that his sacrificial work would be conducted in behalf of the same group for whom he carries out his intercessory work. It is difficult to believe that Christ would refuse to intercede for a portion of those for whose sin he, by his blood, made expiation!
The Father’s Particularistic Salvific Will and Work
It is unthinkable, because of the essential and teleological unity of the Godhead, to suppose that Christ’s sacrificial work would conflict with the overall salvific intention of the Father in any way. Christ himself declared that he had come to do the will of the Father (Matt. 26:39; John 6:38; Heb. 10:7). In other words, there is harmony and consistency between the Father’s salvific will and work and the Son’s salvific will and work. But the Scriptures expressly represent the Father’s salvific will and work (for example, foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying, glorifying) as particular and definite with regard to their objects (see the many passages which declare that God the Father, before the foundation of the world, chose certain persons in Christ unto salvation, such as Rom. 8:28–30, 33; 9:11–23; 11:6–7, 28; Eph. 1:4–5, 11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9). Harmony between the salvific intention of the Father and the salvific intention of the Son would demand that Christ’s purpose behind his cross work be as particular and definite as the Father’s salvific purpose, and terminate upon the same objects. This is just to say that Christ’s cross work was carried out savingly in behalf of the elect—those whom the Father had given him (John 17:2, 6, 9, 24), whom the Father would draw to him (John 6:44), whom the Father would teach to come to him (John 6:45), and whom the Father would enable to come to him (John 6:65). It is unthinkable to believe that Christ would say: “I recognize, Father, that your election and your salvific intentions terminate upon only a portion of mankind, but because my love is more inclusive and expansive than yours, I am not satisfied to die only for those you have elected. I am going to die for everyone.”
The Death to Sin and Resurrection to Newness of Life of All Those for Whom Christ Died
All those for whom Christ died are said in Scripture, by virtue of their spiritual union with him, to have died with Christ and to have risen with him to newness of life (Rom. 6:5–11; 2 Cor. 5:14–15). This definitive breach with the old life of sin affords the basis for the inevitable experiential and progressive sanctification which flows out of that same union with Christ (Rom. 6:14, 17–22). But neither Scripture, history, nor Christian experience justifies the conclusion that all mankind in actual fact have lived, do live, or shall live out their lives as victors over the power of sin by virtue of and in the power of that union with Christ of which the Scriptures speak. This victory may be ascribed only to believers in Christ, only to “saints” who “died with him and rose with him to newness of life” (Rom. 6:2–4), who “no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them” (2 Cor. 5:15). Accordingly, it follows that the “all” for whom Christ savingly died are equivalent to God’s elect, Christ’s “saints,” that is, his church, and must be restricted in our thinking to the same. 9
The Implication in the Particularity of the Gift of Faith, a “Purchased” Blessing, For Christ’s Cross Work, the “Procuring” Act
The Bible teaches that faith in Jesus Christ is an absolutely indispensable necessity for salvation. But such faith is not natural to the fallen human heart (see Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14). (John H. Gerstner declares: “Alongside getting faith out of a heart that is utterly hostile and unbelieving, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear or getting blood from a turnip is child’s play.” 10) To the contrary, Scripture makes it clear that faith in Jesus Christ is a spiritual gift traceable to divine grace (Acts 13:48; 16:14; 18:27; Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29). Moreover, Scripture makes it clear that “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” that men receive, they receive by virtue of the ἐν Χριστῷ, en Christō, relation and Christ’s “procuring” work at the cross (Eph. 1:3; Rom. 8:32; 1 Cor. 4:7; Gal. 3:13–14). As the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 57, declares: “Christ, by his mediation, hath procured redemption, with all other benefits of the covenant of grace.” We may conclude then that faith in Jesus Christ is one of the saving spiritual graces which Christ’s death procured for all for whom he died. But since “not everyone has faith” (2 Thess. 3:2) nor will everyone finally have faith (Matt. 7:22–23; 25:46), and since it is impossible to imagine that God the Father, Christ Jesus himself, or the Holy Spirit would ever refuse to grant to those for whom Christ died any blessing which Christ’s death procured for them, we must conclude that Christ did not savingly die for all men. Otherwise, all men would be granted the grace of faith.
But while God has not given to all the gift of faith through which instrumentality alone they may apprehend and make their very own the saving Christ and in him the saving righteousness which he procured, Paul informs us that the “elect,” the “remnant chosen by grace,” who are surely those for whom Christ died, have received a “righteousness that is by [the gift of] faith” (Rom. 11:6–7—in this context he is referring to elect Jews but the same principle surely extends to elect Gentiles as well [see Rom. 9:30–31]).
This argument applies equally to the gift of repentance which was purchased for particular people but not for all. (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25).
The Intrinsic Efficacy of Christ’s Cross Work
The Scriptures make it clear that Christ died not a potentially but an actually sacrificial death on the cross (1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:23, 26; 10:24), becoming there both sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and curse (Gal. 3:13) as the substitute for others (περί, peri—Rom. 8:3; Gal. 1:4; 1 Pet. 3:18), as the substitute in behalf of others (ὑπέρ, hyper—Rom. 5:6–8; 8:32; 14:15; Gal. 2:13, 20; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:15; Heb. 2:9), as the substitute for the sake of others (διά, dia—1 Cor. 8:11), and as the substitute in the stead or place of others (ἀντί, anti—Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), thereby paying the penalty, bearing the curse, and dying the death for all those for whom he died. Christ by his death work actually (1) destroyed the works of the devil in behalf of (1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:14–15; Col. 2:14–15), (2) propitiated God’s wrath for (by satisfying the demands of divine justice) (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), (3) reconciled God to (Rom. 5:10–11; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20–21), and (4) redeemed from the curse of the law and the guilt and power of sin (Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Tit. 2:14) all those for whom he died as a sacrifice. If he did his cross work for all mankind, then the sins of all mankind have been atoned for. But then all mankind would be saved, for what is it which keeps any single man from heaven but his sin? Unless, that is, God punishes sin twice—once in the person of Christ and again in the person of the unrepentant sinner. But the Scriptures will not permit us to espouse either the universal salvation of all mankind or the enactment of double jeopardy by God. The only conclusion that one may fairly draw is that Christ did not do his cross work for all; he did it rather only for some, and for all the sins of those people. John Owen quite properly argued that
God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh shall be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. cxxx. 3.… If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or [he did] not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will. 11
Owen’s reasoning is impeccable. It illustrates that a general or universal atonement falls under the weight of logical analysis. There is a fourth alternative, which, in my opinion, is blasphemous: it is the view that Christ’s death did not pay the penalty for the sins of anyone. This is the path theological liberals have chosen to follow, as have also consistent Arminians, who, for reasons that differ from those of liberalism, deny altogether a substitutionary atonement, preferring Grotius’s governmental theory, which contends that in his death Christ underwent the suffering human sin deserves in order to illustrate what the just Governor of the universe thinks human sin merits and this in turn to maintain God’s just governance of the world if and when he forgives men on other grounds (namely, repentance, their faith, etc.)—but that in doing so he neither took any man’s place nor did he bear either the penalty or the curse which human sin deserves. 12
An Atonement of High Value Necessarily Exclusive of an Atonement of Universal Extension
Unless one is prepared to affirm the final universal salvation of all mankind (which is so patently unbiblical that we will altogether ignore it as a possible option), one cannot have an atonement of infinite intrinsic value and also an atonement of universal extension. One can have one or the other but not both. If the nature of his atoning work is such that by his death Christ actually propitiated the wrath of God, removed God’s holy sense of alienation, and paid the price for sin that God’s offended justice required (which is what we mean when we speak of an atonement of infinite intrinsic worth), and if he did this work sacrificially, meaning that he did it for, on behalf of, in the stead of, and in the place of sinners, then it follows that for those sinners in whose stead he did this work, as Charles H. Spurgeon wrote, “Christ so died that he infallibly secured [their] salvation … , who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved.” 13 But then this requires that we conclude that Christ did not savingly die for everyone—since neither Scripture, history, nor Christian experience will tolerate the conclusion that everyone has been, is being, or shall be saved—but for some people only, even those whom the Father had given to him.
If, on the other hand, Christ did his cross work, whatever it is (and those who advocate an atonement of universal extension must make clear precisely what Christ did do at the cross if he did not actually propitiate, reconcile, and redeem and then must square their view with Scripture), with a view to the salvation of every person without exception, and if he did not do for any one particular person anything which he did not do for every person distributively (which is what we mean when we speak of an atonement of universal extension), we must conclude (1) that Christ died neither savingly nor substitutionally for anyone, since he did not do for those who are saved anything that he did not also do for those who are lost, and the one thing that he did not do for the lost was save them, and (2) that Christ’s death actually procured nothing that guarantees the salvation of anyone, but only made everyone in some inexplicable way salvable (which, according to Luke 16:26 and Heb. 9:27, is in actuality manifestly impossible in the case of those who were already in hell), whose actual salvation must of necessity be rooted then ultimately in soil other than Christ’s cross work—namely, in the soil of the individual’s own will and work. But it should be plain to all that this construction eviscerates Christ’s cross work of its intrinsic infinite saving worth, is Pelagianism and makes salvation ultimately turn on human merit. As Warfield insists:
The things that we have to choose between, are an atonement of high value, or an atonement of wide extension. The two cannot go together. And this is the real objection of Calvinism to [the universalizing] scheme which presents itself as an improvement on its system: it universalizes the atonement at the cost of its intrinsic value, and Calvinism demands a really substitutive atonement which actually saves. 14
It is often urged by Arminian Christians in response to all this that this particularistic teaching is cold and heartless. But in his sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:14– 15, J. Gresham Machen observed:
People say that Calvinism is a dour, hard creed. How broad and comforting, they say, is the doctrine of a universal atonement, the doctrine that Christ died equally for all men there upon the cross! How narrow and harsh, they say, is this Calvinistic doctrine—one of the “five points” of Calvinism—this doctrine of the “limited atonement,” this doctrine that Christ died for the elect of God in a sense in which he did not die for the unsaved!
But do you know, my friends, it is surprising that men say that. It is surprising that they regard the doctrine of a universal atonement as being a comforting doctrine. In reality it is a very gloomy doctrine indeed. Ah, if it were only a doctrine of a universal salvation, instead of a doctrine of a universal atonement, then it would no doubt be a very comforting doctrine; then no doubt it would conform wonderfully well to what we in our puny wisdom might have thought the course of the world should have been. But a universal atonement without a universal salvation is a cold, gloomy doctrine indeed. To say that Christ died for all men alike and that then not all men are saved, to say that Christ died for humanity simply in the mass, and that the choice of those who out of that mass are saved depends upon the greater receptivity of some as compared with others—that is a doctrine that takes from the gospel much of its sweetness and much of its joy. From the cold universalism of that Arminian creed we turn ever again with a new thankfulness to the warm and tender individualism of our Reformed Faith, which we believe to be in accord with God’s holy Word. Thank God we can say every one, as we contemplate Christ upon the Cross, not just: “He died for the mass of humanity, and how glad I am that I am amid that mass,” but: “He loved me and gave Himself for me; my name was written from all eternity upon His heart, and when He hung and suffered there on the Cross He thought of me, even me, as one for whom in His grace He was willing to die.