Atonement: Particular Redemption

Often the extent of atonement has been a confusing question for Christians who otherwise generally appreciate the biblical teaching on the sovereignty of God in salvation. In light of this, I thought I would post some notes with a bit of commentary for folks to use as a guide to studying the issue for themselves. The notes are meant as a guide so they are not exhaustive, but I do attempt to point to a few of the key points that have to be considered.

Atonement: Particular Redemption

What is the Extent of the Atonement? A Biblical & Reformed View

 First, a God-centered, perspective-setting thought to lay the overarching groundwork for this study:

“What Christ acquired by this sacrifice is beyond description. For himself he acquired by it his entire exaltation, his resurrection (Eph. 1:20), his ascension to heaven (1 Pet. 3:22), his seating at the right hand of God (Eph. 1:20; Heb. 12:2), his elevation as head of the church (Eph. 1:22), the name that is above every name (Phil. 2:9-11), the glory of the mediator (John 17:5; Heb. 2:9), power over all things in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22; 1 Cor. 15:24ff.), the final judgment (John 5:22, 27). In addition he acquired for his own, for humanity, for the world, an interminable series of blessings.” [1]

 Summary statement: The atonement of Christ has a covenantal design (as does his entire priestly ministry). In the covenant of redemption, a particular group of people was marked out by God to be saved by the Son.

 The covenantal design of the atonement:

  • Covenant of Redemption: (John 6:37-39, 44, 65; 10:26, 28-29; 15:16; 17:1-2, 6, 9, 19, 24)  – John’s Gospel teaches:
  1. In eternity past, the Father has given a certain group of people, out of the mass of humanity, to the Son to be saved.
  2. The Son reveals himself to, prays for, dies for, keeps and guards these people in a way that he does not do for those outside the elect of the covenant.
  3. All who the Father gives to the Son in eternity, will come to the Son in saving faith in time. “Whosoever” comes to the Son in faith, is welcomed and will be saved by the Son.

Various additional texts to consider:

Emphasis on the saving intent of the atonement:

  • Eph. 5:25-26
  • Acts 20:28
  • Luke 22:19-20
  • Exodus 28:17-21; 39:10-14 – “As Tom Ascol says, ‘Just as the high priest under the old covenant wore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on his breastplate when he performed his sacrificial service, so our great High Priest under the new covenant had the names of His people inscribed on His heart as He offered up Himself as a sacrifice for their sins.’”[2] 

Emphasis on effectual nature of the atonement:

  • Hebrews 9:12
  • Rom. 8:32
  • John 10:11, 15; 15:13 – Christ dies for his sheep and some are not his sheep (John 10:26)
  • 2 Cor. 5:14; cf. Rom. 6:1-14

 Where does disagreement rise? What, if any, benefits are there for the non-elect in the atonement?

Emphasis on the extensive nature of the atonement:

  • Isaiah 53-5-6; Col. 1:19-20; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2; John 3:16

 In light of these texts, can we say that there is some sense in which Jesus died for the non-elect?

  • Every blessing that the non-elect receive is also on the basis of the atonement of Christ. Common grace extends to the non-elect in the form of family relationships, gainful employment, warmth of the sun, air in the lungs, any measure of heath or life, etc. The saving benefits of the atonement are limited to the elect. The innumerable benefits that the non-elect receive in this life do not include a new heart.

Points of agreement with evangelicals who hold to an unlimited or universal atonement: [3]

  1. Jesus’ atonement is infinitely valuable.
  2. There are benefits of the death of Christ for all people.
  3. Not all people will be saved.
  4. The atonement must be limited one way or another. “Either it is limited in its effects (Christ died for all, but not all get saved), or it is limited in its scope (Christ did not die for all, but all for whom he died will be saved).” [4]

Discussion of disagreement: How is the atonement limited?

  • Sufficient for all, efficient to atone for the sins of the elect:The atonement was adequate to atone for the sins of all people but only the elect have the saving benefits of the atonement applied to them.
    • “The Reformed said that Christ’s work by itself was completely sufficient for the atonement of the sins of the whole world so that, if he had wanted to save a smaller number, it [the number of people saved] could have been less, and if he had wanted to save a higher number, it [the atonement] would not have had to be greater.” [5]
    • Yet, “If God planned from eternity to save one portion of the human race and not another, which is what election affirms, then it is a contradiction to say that he sent his Son to die for those he had previously determined not to save in the same way that he sent his Son to die for those he had previously determined actually to save.” [6]

How does this relate to evangelism?

  • The evangelism of the Church is guaranteed to be successful: Those whom the Father planned to save, the Son died to save and the Spirit will effectively save. The evangelism of the Church will be fruitful.
  • All sinners can and should be welcomed to believe in Christ and receive the saving benefits of the atonement.
    • “The design of Christ’s death being to secure the salvation of his own people, incidentally to the accomplishment of that end, it comprehends the offer of that salvation freely and honestly to all men on the condition of their faith. No man is lost for the want of an atonement, or because there is any other barrier in the way of his salvation than his own most free and wicked will.”[7]

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation In Christ, p. 339.

[2] Joel Beeke, Living For God’s Glory: An Introduction To Calvinism, p. 97.

[3] James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002, p. 115-16.

[4] Adapted from Boice and Ryken, p. 117.

[5] Herman Bavinck,Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation In Christ, p. 401.

[6] Boice and Ryken, p. 114.

[7] A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972, 419-20.


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