Calvinism (II)

Limited Atonement

Harry E. Ozment
Hermitage , Tennessee


A second part of Calvinism is the doctrine of "Limited Atonement." This particular tenet is an outgrowth of the fundamental root of all Calvinism, "Predestination." Put quite simply, it holds that the atoning sacrifice of Christ was limited in its scope to those who have been predestinated by God to salvation in the beginning of time. The limits of the atonement, Calvinists claim, are not due to any shortcomings or imperfections in the sacrifice itself, but due rather to the act of God in election of a limited number of saved individuals. "Christ died exclusively for the elect, and purchased redemption only for the elect; and in no sense did he die for the rest of the race." (Expository Comments in Presbyterian Confession of Faith) Walter Lingle has said, "John Calvin taught that the Atonement was sufficient for the salvation of all, but efficient only for the elect."

Errors of the Doctrine

"Limited Atonement" is an erroneous doctrine because its foundation doctrine ("Predestination") is crumbling error. The same errors of "predestination" also belong to "limited atonement," and vice versa. Outstanding errors of this doctrine include:

1. Denial of universality of atonement. By affirming the universality of atonement, we do not mean to imply that the sins of all people are covered by the blood of Christ or that all men will be saved. This is not the case at all. We simply mean to say that the benefits of the blood of Christ are offered to all men. Whether a person receives those benefits is dependent upon whether that person accepts the offer of God by obeying His will. This is what John the Baptist meant when he said of Jesus: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (Jn. 1:29) Likewise, Paul said, "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." (2 Cor. 5:19) Calvinism, of course, denies this. According to their theory, Christ did not die for the world-he only died for the select few that God had already chosen to be saved. That our God and His Son would operate in this way is unthinkable. Is our God so selfish that He would permit the sacrifice of His most valuable possession (His Son) to benefit only a select few, wile realizing that the sacrifice could benefit all the obedient? This is what Calvinism teaches and what all Calvinists must believe. This idea is dealt a death blow by Jesus himself in Jn. 6:51: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."Jesus sums up the truth of the atonement in this one verse. The sacrifice of Christ was given for the whole "world," and "any man" can take advantage of the benefits of the sacrifice. According to Calvinism, though, Christ did not know what he was talking about: Christ did not die for the "world" and not just "any man" can partake of this sacrifice! Who are we to believe the Christ or the Calvinists? John sums up the divine truth very well in I Jn. 2:2: "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Cf. Rom. 5:14-19; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 2:9.

2. Limiting the love of God. The Bible teaches that there is a direct proportionate connection between the love of God and the sacrifice of His Son. For example, Paul said, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." (Rom. 5:8-9) The ratio could be stated as follows: As the sacrifice is to men, so is the love of God to men. In other words, if the sacrifice for man was limited, then the love of God for man is limited. Would any Calvinist admit that God's love is limited? To do so would bring reproach upon the name of God. Calvinists realize this difficulty with their theory, and I personally believe that this is why they incessantly speak of the "love of God"-they are evidently worried that someone will take a careful look at their theory and thereby conclude that they do not believe in the "love of God" as it is revealed to be in the Bible. The fact of the matter is that the sacrifice was for the entire world and any man may apply the benefits of that sacrifice to his own soul by obeying God's will. If, therefore, the sacrifice is unlimited, God's love is unlimited-He loves all men. Jesus proved this very point in the familiar words of Jn. 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." The fact that God's love is unlimited is proven by Paul in 1 Tim. 2:3-4: "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." Paul here is instructing Timothy to pray for all men, because God desires that all men be saved. But if God's love is not extended to all men but limited only to the elected few, why pray for them at all? To deny that all men will be saved is no reflection on the love of God, for this will be the fault of the lost; however, to deny that God desires all men to be saved is a reflection on His divine love. May these words of Peter haunt the Calvinist until he abandons his blasphemous doctrine: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Pet. 3:9).

3. Rendering useless the Great Commission of Christ. Every Christian is familiar with the Great Commission of Jesus in Mk. 16:15-16: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." This charge delivered by Jesus has been the great purpose for which the church has existed, and it has served as the greatest challenge ever declared to every individual Christian. In the early years of the church, "they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). In doing this today, we, even as they did two thousand years ago, fulfill the obligation put upon us by the Great Commission. However, if Calvinism's doctrine of "Limited Atonement" is pressed to its logical conclusion, it makes obedience to the Great Commission needless and useless. Why carry the gospel to those who have been "elected"? They are not required to obey anything because they have been "elected." The blood of Christ will be applied to their souls at God's convenience, and their destinies will remain sealed. On the other hand, why carry the gospel to those who have not been "elected"? The blood of Christ was not shed for them, and to beg and obey as hard as they will, not one single drop of the atoning blood will ever be applied to their sin-stained hearts! What a pity! Rather, we should say, what blasphemy! May those in error see their condition and repent.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:28, p. 6-7
May 16, 1974