Sep 26, 2012

Definite Atonement I

In this series of articles I intend to show that Christ died specially for the elect, for those who he chose to salvation before the foundation of the world.  (Eph. 1: 3-4; II Thess. 2: 13-14)  I will not only give the reasons why I believe this to be the teaching of Scripture but will answer the leading arguments brought against it. 

Traditionally, the doctrine has been styled "limited atonement" in contrast to what is called a "universal" or "unlimited atonement."  There are some objections made to these terms, however.  All, except the Universalists, limit the atonement.  All admit that the atonement's saving efficacy is limited to believers, or limited in its application.  Some therefore prefer other ways of expressing the matter by affirming "particular redemption" or "definite atonement."  The questions under consideration by all these terms is the question - "for whom did Christ die?"  And, "what was the intent of the atonement?" 

That the intent of God in providing atonement by the sacrifice of Christ is related to the extent of the atonement is acknowledged by all to be necessarily connected.  Was it God's purpose in the atonement to make the salvation of those for whom atonement was made possible or to actually save them?  In theological terms, those who believe the former are styled "Arminian" while those who believe the latter are styled "Calvinist" or "Reformed." 

Definite Atonement

"Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high."  (Heb. 1: 3)

Verses such as this one state very clearly that sins were purged by the death of Christ and was a completed work.  This is in keeping with the words of Christ uttered on the cross where he said "It is finished."  (John 19: 30)  The adverb "when" is very important.  Christ purged from sins by his death on the cross and this is why he "sat down."  This sitting down signified that he had completed the work of purging sins for those for whom he died.

To affirm that Christ died for all must therefore lead to the conclusion that all are and will be saved.  How can a man be lost who has had his sins purged?  This is a question that will forever destroy those who teach universal atonement and who believe that some for whom Christ died will nevertheless spend eternity in Hell.  What they are forced into denying is the stated fact of the passage, that those for whom Christ died are purged from their sins. 

A leading argument against definite atonement, or salvation at the cross, is one that says - "if one is saved from wrath at the cross, then why is the same one said to be under wrath until conversion?"  (See Eph. 2: 3 & John 3: 36)  The argument is presented in order to deny that any were saved by Christ at the cross.  But, how can such be denied when verses, such as the above, clearly affirm it?  Such an argument cannot overthrow what is plainly affirmed by the passage.  The best that the argument can do is to force one to say that there is a sense in which sins were purged by the death of Christ and another sense in which they are purged in conversion. 

Sinners for whom Christ died were saved from their sins when Christ died and are also saved from their sins when they believe.  Both are true and affirming the truth of one does not exclude the truth of the other.  Those therefore who make such argument for the purpose of denying that there was any actual or definite salvation accomplished at the cross are in error.  One cannot argue scripturally that sins are only purged in conversion to the exclusion of what took place "when" Christ died. 

What one must do is to explain in what sense sins were purged at the cross and in what sense they are purged in conversion, to affirm both, and to show how both are true.  Those, therefore, who affirm that the purgation of sins in conversion prove that they could not have been purged when Christ died are in error.  They must deny what is plainly stated in Hebrews 1: 3. 

However, what those who teach universal atonement must deny is the plain fact that anyone was saved when Christ died.  They do not believe that the atonement actually atoned but only made atonement (reconciliation) possible. 

If the fact that sinners are saved in conversion proves that they were not saved at the cross is valid, then it would also prove that sinners are not saved even in conversion. 

The Scriptures teach that salvation from the wrath of God is yet, in some sense, a future event.  Notice these passages.

"Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." (Rom. 5: 9)

"But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." (Rom. 2: 5)

"For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Rev. 6: 17)

These verses speak of being saved in the future from the wrath of God, of being saved in the day of wrath.  Thus, if I make the same argument made by Arminians to deny that any were saved at the cross, then I would say that none are saved until the end of time, for Scripture speaks of being saved from wrath as a future event.

Thus, if we speak in accordance with Scripture, we will affirm that sinners were saved from the wrath of God when Christ died for them, and that they are saved when they are converted, and also that they are saved in the day of wrath.  All three are true.

How and in what sense are sinners saved from the wrath of God before the day of wrath?  Notice these passages:

"And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come." (I Thess. 1: 10)

"For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Thess. 5: 9)

Paul says that we are presently saved from the wrath that is to come.  But, obviously one cannot actually be saved from future wrath until that future wrath occurs.  The sense therefore in which sinners may now be said to be saved from future wrath is because it has become certain due to the foreordination of God.  When God decrees a thing shall be it is as good as done.  This is what Paul meant when he said that God "calls those things which be not as though they (already) were."  (Rom. 4: 17) 

We see this in regard to all things being put under the feet of Christ.  Notice these passages:

"For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet." (I Cor. 15: 25-27)

"Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him." (Hebrews 2: 8)

"He has put all things under his feet" speaks of what is already done.  Yet, the same writer says "we see not yet all things put under him."  Obviously the decree of God designating Christ as "over all" makes certain that they shall in actuality be put under him. 

So, likewise, when Christ died as a penal substitute and atonement for the sins of those for whom he died, God is said to have pronounced them as saved.  Not, however, that they are actually saved, but the decree has made it so certain that he can speak of it as already done. 

Thus, the argument that none could have been saved at the cross because men are said to be saved at the moment of conversion, is untenable and no argument overthrowing the truth that sinners were saved when Christ died for them.

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