So there are two limitations possible on the atonement, one a limitation of its purpose, to save the elect only, or two, a limitation in its power, intended to save all but not efficacious to save any in and of itself.
Nature Not Extent - So, both camps limit the atonement. One limits its purpose, the other its power. Which is right? The answer to that question can only be found by asking the question “What was the nature or purpose of the atonement?” It is only as we understand its nature or purpose, can we address its extent or audience. To put it another way, “What exactly is the Cross of Christ supposed to do for sinners?” Surely whatever purpose God had in the atonement, that purpose was achieved at Calvary!
So we come to the point where we have a choice. Either, the atonement provided the possibility of salvation for all, but made the salvation of none certain. Or the atonement made certain the salvation of all for which it was intended, the elect. In an attempt to defend an “unlimited” atonement, the Armenians have given us no atonement at all, only the possibility of one. Whereas Reformed Theology insists that Calvary achieved its goal, the certain salvation of all for which it was intended, the elect.
By way of illustration, we can say that when Adam sinned he did not create the possibility of his descendants being fallen; his actions insured the certainty of such a condition. Similarly, when Christ died he did not create the possibility of His descendants being saved; his actions insured the certainty of such a condition.
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ…. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:17, 19
If Christ’s death was to atone for all men, then all men must be atoned for. None can be lost. But we know that many are lost. Therefore, those who are lost did not receive atonement in Christ. He did not die for them. If He did then they could not go to hell. Then, for whom did He die?
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:25-28).
For whom did he die? He clearly says, “I lay down my life for the sheep….” He died for His sheep, not for those who are “not my sheep” or the goats as they are called elsewhere. His death fully achieved its purpose, the certain salvation of his sheep.
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In Presbyterian circles, this topic is sometimes called “the doctrine of Limited Atonement.” Now the very sound of the phrase “limited atonement” is distasteful because it seems to deny the sufficiency of the work of Christ at Calvary. Indeed, that is exactly how some respond to this doctrine. But first let it be understood that no true Bible believer would deny the sufficiency of Christ work at Calvary for the salvation of souls. However, there is a sense in which all parties “limit” the atonement. For the Reformed the atonement is limited in its purpose. Christ died for his elect; that was the purpose of His death. Although Christ death is sufficient for the salvation of all, it is efficient only for those whom Christ died, his elect. Now, although Arminians deny the limitation of the work of Calvary to the elect only, they nevertheless have a limitation of their own. Their limitation is in its efficacy or power. Insisting that Christ died for all men they are hard pressed to explain why all men are not saved. The only explanation appears to be that the atonement is simply not capable of saving the “all” for which Christ died.
Reformed Theology: Christ's Purposeful Atonement - Limited Atonement
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