The Doctrine of Particular Redemption

Ten Lines of Evidence for the Doctrine of Particular Redemption

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. Continue reading

“Definite Atonement” Rather Than “Limited Atonement”

Dr. Roger Nicole (December 10, 1915 – December 11, 2010[1]) was a native Swiss Reformed Baptist theologian. He was an associate editor for the New Geneva Study Bible, assisted in the translation of the New International Version, and was a founding member of both the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Theological Society, serving as president of the latter in 1956.

The following excerpt is a transcript from a teaching he conducted decades ago entitled “The Five Points of Calvinism”:

Then comes the third point which is sometimes called Limited Atonement. And here I wax warm because I think that is a complete misnomer. The others I am willing to live with. “Limited Atonement” I cannot live with because that is a total misrepresentation of what we mean to say.

The purpose of using that expression is that the atonement is not universal in the sense that Christ died for every member of the race, in the same sense in which He died for those who will be redeemed. Therefore the purpose of the atonement is restricted to the elect and not spread to the universality of mankind. This is what is meant by “Limited”.

But the problem is that anyone who does not hold that Christ will in fact save everybody has a “limited atonement”. Anyone who says there will be some people saved and other people lost, has to say the atonement does not function for the universality of mankind.

Now some of the people limit it in breadth; that is, they say, the Lord Jesus Christ died for the redeemed and He sees to it that the redeemed are therefore saved. So that there is a certain group of mankind, a particular group, which is the special object of the redemptive love and substitutionary work of Jesus Christ and toward this group then, Christ sees to it that His work is effective and brings about their salvation. And while the remainder of mankind may gain some benefits from the work of Christ, they are however, not encompassed in the same way in His design, as were those whom the Father gave Him. This is one way of limiting it, you may limit it in breadth, if I may put it that way.

The other people who say “Christ died for everybody in the same way”, have to recognize that some people for whom Christ died, at the end are lost, so that the death of Christ does not ensure the salvation of those for whom He died. The effect is therefore that they limit the atonement in depth. The atonement is ineffective. It does not secure the salvation of the people for whom it is intended. And so in some way, the will of God and the redemptive love of Jesus Christ are frustrated by the resistance and the wicked will of men who resist Him and do not accept His grace. So that salvation really consists on the work of Christ plus acceptance or non-resistance or some ingredient of one kind or another that some people add. And it is this ingredient which really constitutes the difference between being saved and being lost.

No one who says “at the end there will be some people saved and other people lost” can really in honesty speak of an “Unlimited Atonement”, and therefore I for one am not happy to go under the banner of “Limited Atonement” as if Calvinists and myself were the ones who wickedly emasculate and mutilate the great scope and beauty of the love and redemption of Jesus Christ.

This is not really a question of limit. This is a question of purpose.

And so we ought to talk about “Definite Atonement.” There is a definite purpose of Christ in offering Himself. Substitution that is not a ‘blanket’ substitution; but a substitution that is oriented specifically to the purpose for which He came into this world, which is to save and redeem those whom the Father has given Him.

Another term that is appropriate, although perhaps less precise is the term “Particular Redemption”, for the redemption of Christ is a particular one, which accomplishes what it purposes. The alternative is that Christ redeemed no one in particular.

Now if we change that language I think we put ourselves away from the very unpleasant onus of being the one who seems to be in the business of restricting the scope of the love of Christ.

If I am ready to say my position is that of “Limited Atonement”, my opponent will come and say, “You believe in Limited Atonement but I believe in Unlimited Atonement” – he seems to be the one who exalts the grace of God.

Now use my words and see what happens.

I say, “I believe in Definite Atonement”. What can my opponent say?

He says, “Well I believe in Indefinite Atonement.”

Now if they want to use the language, I have no opportunity to do anything but to protest. But if I have the choice to use a language to represent my position I certainly do not want to put myself at the psychological disadvantage from the start. And the term “Definite Atonement” you will find in very fine writers like John Owen and William Cunningham of Scotland, and Warfield and others, is a much more accurate representation of precisely what the Reformed position holds. Let us abandon that expression “Limited Atonement” which disfigures the Calvinistic doctrine of grace in the work of Christ. I feel rather strongly on that, as you know.

A Teaching Resource on the Cross

Mike Riccardi has served on staff at Grace Community Church since 2010. He currently serves as the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries, which includes overseeing Fundamentals of the Faith classes, six foreign language outreach Bible studies, and evangelism in nearby jails, rehab centers, and in the local neighborhood. Mike earned his B.A. in Italian and his M.Ed. in Foreign Language from Rutgers University, and his M.Div. and Th.M. from The Master’s Seminary. He also has the privilege of serving alongside Phil Johnson as co-pastor of GraceLife, a Sunday morning adult fellowship group at Grace Church.

(1) What Really Happened on the Cross? Part 1 (mp3) here.

(2) What Really Happened on the Cross? Part 2 ((mp3) here.

(3) Invincible Atonement, mp3 teaching and includes a pdf resource file at this link.

Also, Pastor Mike taught a detailed study at this year’s Shepherd’s Conference on the theme of “He Emptied Himself: A Study of the Kenosis of Christ.” (found here)

God Is Satisfied

Article: R. C. Sproul: God is Satisfied (original source here)

In the eleventh century, one of the church’s most brilliant thinkers, Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, wrote three important works that have influenced the church ever since. In the field of Christian philosophy, he gave us his Monologium and his Proslogium; in the field of systematic theology, he penned the great Christian classic Cur Deus Homo, which being translated means “Why the God-Man?”

In this work, Anselm set forth the philosophical and theological foundations for an important aspect of the church’s understanding of the atonement of Christ, specifically the satisfaction view of the atonement. In it, Anselm argued that it was necessary for the atonement to take place in order to satisfy the justice of God. That viewpoint became the centerpiece of classical Christian orthodoxy in the Middle Ages, in terms of the church’s understanding of the work of Christ in His atonement. Since then, however, the satisfaction view of the atonement has not been without its critics.

In the Middle Ages, questions were raised about the propriety of thinking that the atonement of Jesus was made necessary by some abstract law of the universe that required God’s justice to be satisfied. This gave rise to the so-called Ex Lexdebate. In the Ex Lex debate, the question was raised as to whether God’s will functioned apart from any law or outside of any law (ex lex), or whether the will of God was itself subjected to some norm of righteousness or cosmic law that God was required to follow and, therefore, His will was exercised under law (sub lego). The question was: Is God apart from law or is He under law?

The church’s response to this dilemma was to say basically “a pox on both houses,” and to declare that God is neither apart from law nor under law in these respective senses. Rather, the church responded by affirming that God is both apart from law and under law, in so far as He is free from any restraints imposed upon Him by some law that exists outside of Himself. In that sense, He is apart from law and not under law. Yet at the same time, God is not arbitrary or capricious and works according to the law of His own nature. The church declared that God is a law unto Himself. This reflects not a spirit of lawlessness within God, but that the norm for God’s behavior and God’s will is based on what the seventeenth-century orthodox theologians called “the natural law of God.” Continue reading

Calvin’s View on the Atonement

What did John Calvin believe concerning limited Atonement? Many say that Calvin did not. Dr. Nicole addresses this question with great care.

This topic has received considerable attention in the recent past, perhaps in view of R. T. Kendall’s very controversial book Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649.1 An effort is made here to summarize the debate and to provide a brief evaluation.
It is often stated—and with considerable propriety—that Calvin did not write an explicit treatment concerning the extent of the atonement, in fact did not deal with this precise issue in the terms to which Reformed theology has been accustomed. It must be owned, of course, that the question had received some attention before Calvin. Notably Gottschalk in the ninth century had given express support to definite atonement2 and the scholastics had discussed the topic and advanced a partial resolution in asserting that Christ’s death was “sufficient for all men and efficient for the elect.” 3 Calvin alludes to and endorses this distinction but views it as insufficient for a proper analysis of 1 John 2:2. 4 Nevertheless a full discussion of the scope of the atonement is not found in Calvin’s writings, and the assessment of his position in this area has been varied.

Certain other Reformed theologians, contemporaries of Calvin or flourishing in the late sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth century, expressed a clear endorsement of definite atonement: e.g. Peter Martyr, H. Zanchius, T. Beza, J. Piscator, W. Ames, R. Abbot. 5 As far as we know, they did not assert that they were conscious of differing with Calvin on this score, nor did Calvin take issue in writing with any of those who formulated the view during his life-time.

One of the earliest writers to claim that Calvin espoused universal atonement was Moyse Amyraut (1596–1664) who in his Eschantillon de la doctrine de Calvin touchant la predestination6 quoted certain passages from Calvin’s commentaries in support of his own position on universal atonement. Amyraut’s friend and supporter Jean Daillé (1594–1670) later published some 43 pages of excerpts from Calvin’s works which he deemed in line with universal grace. 7 A number of these excerpts relate to the design of the atonement, but it is really amazing to observe how most of these quotations are lacking in cogency with respect to the precise status questionis. Some, indeed, appear actually counterproductive, especially if replaced in their original context. 8 Amyraut’s opponents, notably Pierre DuMoulin (1568–1658), 9 André Rivet (1573–1651), 10 and Frederic Spanheim (1600–1649) 11 did not fail to respond with explanations of Calvin’s texts which showed them to be compatible with particularism. Furthermore they quoted other texts of Calvin, especially from his Traité de la predestination,12 in which the design of the atonement and God’s elective purpose are seen as inextricably related. Continue reading

The Case for Definite Atonement

Article: Dr. Roger Nicole on the subject on the limited or definite atonement of Jesus Christ.

Introduction:

It is with special joy that I accept this invitation to present a brief paper sketching the case for definite atonement. A professor of Systematic Theology in an interdenominational conservative school must naturally feel constrained to afford a fair representation not only to his own convictions but to the various views to which some evangelicals are committed. Under those circumstances I seldom have occasion to make a direct plea for particular redemption. At this time, however, the case for universal atonement is in the hands of two scholars who hold to it and set it forth in two papers appearing in the present issue of B.E.S.T. With zest, therefore do I undertake the task to express and vindicate the doctrine of definite atonement.

I. Precise Point at Issue

In order to dispel misunderstanding frequently prevailing in spite of clear and emphatic statements (which inexplicably remain unheeded), it may be wise at the outset to specify precisely what is in view here.

The doctrine is not concerned with the intrinsic value of the sacrifice of Christ. It is freely granted by all parties to the controversy, and specifically by the Reformed, that the death of our Lord, by virtue of His divine nature, is of infinite worth and therefore amply sufficient to redeem all mankind, all angels and the whole world, even a thousand worlds besides, if He had so intended. Rather the point at issue here concerns the chief purpose of the Father in sending the Son and the chief intention of Christ in laying down His life in sacrifice.

The Reformed as well as others admit, yea are eager to acknowledge, that there are certain blessings short of salvation, which are the fruits of the work of Christ, which may terminate upon any and all men, and which do in fact benefit substantially some who will never attain unto salvation. The point which is here in view, however, is whether salvation itself, involving all its integral elements, reconciliation, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc., has been actually secured and purchased by Christ for all men, or for the elect only.

It should be well understood that among evangelicals there is no major contention as to whether all will in fact be saved. With deep sorrow at the thought of the destiny of the lost, all parties here in presence confess that the Scripture makes it patently plain that ultimately some men will be saved and others will be lost. Thus it is important to emphasize at the outset that even those who assert a universal intent for the death of Christ do not go so far as to say that all men will in fact attain unto salvation.

The point at issue here is simply this, whether the Father is sending the Son and the Son in offering Himself did intend to, provide salvation for all men and every man, or whether they intended to secure the salvation of all those and those only who will in fact be redeemed. The Reformed position unapologetically asserts the latter. Continue reading

The Design and Scope of the Atonement

sproul78Article by Dr. R. C. Sproul.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. (Original source it seems almost suicidal, like facing the open floodgates riding a raft made of balsa wood, to appeal to a seventeenth-century theologian to address a pressing theological issue. Nothing evokes more snorts from the snouts of anti-rational zealots than appeals to sages from the era of Protestant Scholasticism.

“Scholasticism” is the pejorative term applied by so-called “Neo-Orthodox” (better spelled without the “e” in Neo), or “progressive” Reformed thinkers who embrace the “Spirit” of the Reformation while eschewing its “letter” to the seventeenth-century Reformed thinkers who codified the insights of their sixteenth-century magisterial forebears. To the scoffers of this present age, Protestant Scholasticism is seen as a reification or calcification of the dynamic and liquid forms of earlier Reformed insight. It is viewed as a deformation from the lively, sanguine rediscovery of biblical thought to a deadly capitulation to the “Age of Reason,” whereby the vibrant truths of redemption were reduced to logical propositions and encrusted in dry theological tomes and arid creedal formulations such as the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The besetting sin of men like Francis Turretin and John Owen was their penchant for precision and clarity in doctrinal statements. As J. I. Packer observed in his introduction of John Owen’s classic work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

“Those who see no need for doctrinal exactness and have no time for theological debates which show up divisions between so-called Evangelicals may well regret its reappearance … . Owen’s work is a constructive broad-based biblical analysis of the heart of the gospel, and must be taken seriously as such … . Nobody has the right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness of the atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen’s proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text.”

The “monster” created by Calvinistic logic to which Packer refers is the doctrine of limited atonement. The so-called “Five points of Calvinism” (growing out of a dispute with Remonstrants (Arminians) in Holland in the early seventeenth century) have been popularized by the acrostic T-U-L-I-P, spelling out the finest flower in God’s garden:

T — Total Depravity
U — Unconditional Election
L — Limited Atonement
I — Irresistible Grace
P — Perseverance of the Saints.

Many who embrace a view of God’s sovereign grace in election are willing to embrace the Tulip if one of its five petals is lopped off. Those calling themselves “four-point Calvinists” desire to knock the “L” out of Tulip.

On the surface, it seems that of the “five points” of Tulip, the doctrine of limited atonement presents the most difficulties. Does not the Bible teach over and over that Jesus died for the whole world? Is not the scope of the atonement worldwide? The most basic affirmation the Evangelical recites is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world … .”

On the other hand, it seems to me that the easiest of the five points to defend is limited atonement. But this facility must get under the surface to be manifested. The deepest penetration under that surface is the one provided by Owen in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

First, we ask if the atonement of Christ was a real atonement? Did Jesus really, or only potentially, satisfy the demands of God’s justice? If indeed Christ provided a propitiation and expiation for all human beings and for all their sins, then, clearly, all persons would be saved. Universal atonement, if it is actual, and not merely potential, means universal salvation. Continue reading