Dr. David Allen, of sbctoday.com wrote:
"...God himself cannot offer salvation to the non-elect because there is no salvation to offer them – Christ did not die for their sins. They can’t be saved even if they wanted to be. But the point is they cannot be “offered” that which does not exist for them. What is being offered the non-elect? Nothing. There is no salvation available for them because there is no atonement made for them."
If salvation is offered to all, then Christ must have died for all. In other words, no one can be offered salvation for whom Christ did not die. This is the argument of Dr. Allen and those who respond apologetically to those who believe in both definite atonement (particular redemption) and a universal call and offer of salvation. In this posting I will show how it is not inconsistent to believe in both and how the arguments against both being true and consistent are not tenable.
The OT Offer of Salvation
Surely Christ offered salvation to all even in the time period between Adam and Christ. I don't think that any believer in universal atonement will deny this. Yet, their acceptance of this premise undermines their argument. Christ had not as yet made an atonement when salvation was offered to those in pre-Christian times. But, how could he if there was no salvation/atonement to offer? The only possible response to this is to say that it was in view of a coming atonement for all that the offer could be made to all in that period of time. But, if we accept this reply, then the logical consequence of it is to say that Christ died for every OT sinner who died in his sins. Who can believe such a thing? Christ died on the cross and made atonement for those who were already condemned in Hell fire? Yet, such is the reductio ad absurdum of such a view that says that God cannot offer salvation to a man without Christ having died for that man.
If Christ died for those who had already died lost and were in Hell, then does it not follow that there is salvation possible after death? Who, among the universal atonement advocates, are willing to affirm it? If Christ died for Cain, Cora, Baalim, and Pharoah, then why? For what purpose? If he died for them, when there was no possibility of them being saved, then would this not be dying for them "in vain"?
Some might respond that Christ had to die for the OT unbelievers in order simply to justify his previous offers of salvation. But, this is similar to those who argue that Christ must die for every man in order to justly condemn them in the day of judgment. But, again, what an absurd consequence is this to believe! Jesus said, in regard to his mission into the world and atoning death, that he came not into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. (John 3: 17) In such a case his ministry would be a "ministry of condemnation" rather than of salvation. (II Cor. 3: 9) Christ died in order to justify his condemnation of the wicked? Who can believe it?
Particular Atonement & the Universal Call
T. P. Simmons wrote (see here):
"Nor was it necessary that Christ die for the whole Adamic race in order to make God's general call sincere. It is the notion of some that God's general call requires men to believe that Christ died for them. This is not true. The twenty-eight chapters of Acts, "though replete with information about apostolic dealing with souls, record no precedent whatever for that now popular address to the unconverted- Christ died for you" (Sanger, The Redeemed). "All men are called on in Scripture to believe the gospel, but there is no instance in Scripture in which men are called upon to believe that Christ died for them" (Carson, The Doctrine of the Atonement and Other Treatises, P. 146)." (Systematic Theology, chapter 21)
Simmons cites the great Baptist scholar Alexander Carson, whom we shall hear more from later in this posting. But, already I have shown how the argument that no salvation can be offered without an atonement is false based upon the case of the OT example.
"The following illustration from "The Blood of Jesus," by William Reid, p. 37, also shows the compatibility of a limited atonement and the general invitations of the gospel. After describing passengers boarding a train at Aberdeen Station of the North-Eastern Railway, he says: "Nor did I see any one refusing to enter because the car provided for only a limited number to proceed by that train. There might be eighty thousand inhabitants in and around the city, but still there was not one who talked of it as absurd to provide accommodations for only about twenty persons, for practically it was found to be sufficient. "God, in His infinite wisdom, has made provision of a similar kind for our lost world. He has provided a train of grace to carry as many of its inhabitants to Heaven, the great metropolis of the universe, as are willing to avail themselves of the gracious provisions.
Suppose God had waited until the end before sending Christ to die, (as He could have done just as easily as He waited four thousand years after sin entered the world before sending Christ), and had then sent Him to die for all that had believed. It would then have been manifest that a limited atonement offers no hindrance to the salvation of any man that does not already exist because of the perversity of man's nature. Surely it is clear to every thinking person that the occurrence of Christ's death two thousand years ago does not change the case; for He died for all who shall ever believe, these having been known to God from eternity as fully as they shall be in the end."
The case of the size of the ark and the preaching of Noah also shows how the general call to salvation is consistent with a limited view of atonement. If the reasoning of the advocates of universal atonement is correct, then the size of the ark should have been large enough for every man, alive at the time of the flood, to have dwelt in it.
Carson wrote (Works of Alexander Carson see here):
"But there are many who plead for the atonement of Christ, who, in effect, deny it, as well as its open opposers. They suppose that it is a conditional atonement, of efficacy only to those who comply with certain terms. It is evident, however, that a conditional atonement is no atonement in the proper sense of the word; for an atonement must expiate the sins atoned for, just as a payment cancels a debt. Where, then, there has been an actual atonement made, the sins atoned for never can be punished again, more than a debt once paid can be charged a second time. It would be unjust in God to charge the debt to the account of man that was fully paid by man's surety. It may be alleged that one man may pay another man's debts upon certain conditions; and that if those conditions are not fulfilled, the debt will be still chargeable upon the debtor. But it is evident that, in such a case, the surety either does not actually pay the debt till the conditions are fulfilled, or if he has conditionally paid it, he is refunded before it is chargeable upon the debtor. In every such case, the debt is not really paid. But Jesus has paid the debt. He has already made atonement; and if they for whom he died are not absolved, the debt is charged a second time. He can never be refunded. His blood has been shed; and there is no possibility that what he suffered can be now either more or less. They, then, who suspend the efficacy of the atonement of Christ upon conditions to be complied with by man, in effect deny that atonement has been truly made.—Romans x. 4. People of this opinion consider Christ's death as making the salvation of sinners merely possible. The deficiency of the merit of our works for obtaining a place in heaven, is made up by the righteousness of Christ. But it is not only unscriptural to say that man merits heaven by working, it is also unscriptural to say that Christ paid a price for heaven. He paid a price for sinners; but heaven is a gift. He bought them from misery; but happiness is bestowed through him freely." (pg. 59, section II)
Carson also wrote:
"In giving the commission to the apostles the Lord Jesus Christ declares, that the belief of it is eternal life.—Mark xvi. 15, 16. Preach the gospel;—he that believeth shall be saved. Is there any obscurity here with respect to the thing to be believed for eternal life? Is not this necessarily found in the expression, publish the glad tidings of salvation to all the world, he that believeth those tidings shall be saved. Can any other passage be necessary to convince any one who submits with deference to the word of God? Our Lord did not say to the apostles, "go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, he that believeth that I died for himself, in particular, shall be saved." Now, what is the gospel? The answer to this will shew us, what is the truth to the belief of which is attached eternal life. It is the good news with respect to the atonement of Christ. Let us hear the apostle Paul's account of this gospel:—1 Cor. xv. 1—4. What, then, is the gospel that the apostle preached, that the Corinthian Christians received, and in which they stood; yea, more, by which they were saved? It is neither more nor less, than that Christ died for the sins of his people, that he was buried and rose again. This standing on record, is it not astonishing that systematic orthodoxy has had the effrontery to say, that the belief of this gospel is not enough for salvation ; that in addition to this, men must believe their own interest in the death of Christ, in order to entitle them to the benefit of it? What the apostle calls the gospel is, "that Christ died for our sins." As he is addressing believers, the word our, must refer to believers only. The thing, then, that a man believes for eternal life is, that Christ died for the »ins of all believers, even of all that believed on him before and since his death, and of all that shall believe on him to the end of the world. A man has no need to puzzle, or torment himself with inquiries in the first instance, whether he be included among those for whom Christ died. As he died for all that believe, as soon as a sinner is conscious that he believes the gospel, he has the same ground to believe that Christ died for him, as that he died at all. But this belief of his own interest in Christ's death is not the faith that saves him, but it is founded on that faith. He believes that he died for him, because he believes that he died for all that believe the gospel."
Dr. Allen, however, believes differently, writing:
"There is direct, overt, evidence that Paul in his preaching did indeed tell unsaved people that Christ died for their sins and furthermore it was his consistent practice to do so. Such evidence comes from 1 Corinthians 15:3: “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. . . .” Here Paul is reminding the Corinthians of the message he preached to them when he first came to Corinth (Acts 18:1-18). He clearly affirms the content of the gospel he preached in Corinth included the fact that “Christ died for our sins.” Notice carefully Paul is saying this is what he preached pre-conversion, not post conversion. Thus, the “our” in his statement cannot be taken to refer to all the elect or merely the believing elect, which is what the high-Calvinist is forced to argue. The entire pericope of 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 should be kept in mind. Notice how Paul comes back around to what he had said in verse 3 when he gets to verse 11: “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” The customary present tense in Greek used by Paul when he says “so we preach” along with the aorist tense in Greek for “believed” makes it clear Paul refers to a past point in time when they believed what it was his custom to preach. What did Paul preach to them in his evangelistic efforts to win all of the unsaved to Christ? He preached the gospel, which included “Christ died for our sins.” And so they believed." (see here)
The argument Dr. Allen makes about Christ being preached as dying for "our" sins is not a "direct" and "overt" proof that the apostles preached that Christ died for everyone. Clearly the "our" is a reference to believers. Further, Paul adds that Christ died for our sins "according to the Scriptures," which must mean the old testament scriptures, none of which speak of Christ dying for everyone. We have already notice the chief old testament passage on the atonement (Isaiah 53) and there it is clearly limited to those who are styled by God as "my people." What Paul preached was that Christ died for the sins of those who believe in Jesus. He certainly did not preach that Christ died for those who were already in Hell.
Besides, Paul is not giving verbatim quotations of his sermons preached to the Corinthians prior to their believing and being converted. Therefore, he is not saying that he said to them, while unbelievers and pagans, "Christ died for our sins." He is saying that he preached to them that Christ died for believer's sins, for us who are now believers. This is the message of Paul in all his epistles to believers. He was constantly saying to them, and to them only, "Christ died for our sins." There is no way that "our" can be a pronoun alluding to the entire human race.
Also, even if we admit, for the sake of argument, that Paul said to a group of lost sinners, "Christ died for our sins," this does not necessarily imply that he said this without any further qualification. Those who believe in special and particular atonement affirm this much when they preach to groups of lost sinners. We tell them that Christ died for sinners, for such as we are.
Some of those who argue for indefinite and universal atonement argue that we cannot say to a group of sinners that Christ died for us who are sinners, for this would imply that Christ died for every sinner. They often cite verses where it is said that Christ died for sinners and say that this must mean every sinner. But, this is non-sequiter. When Paul said that "Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5: 6) he no more means everyone who is ungodly than he meant everyone who is ungodly when he said that God "justifieth the ungodly." (Rom. 4: 5)
"All men are called on in Scripture to believe the gospel, but there is no instance in Scripture in which all men are called upon to believe that Christ died for them. All men, possessed of natural understanding, who have. heard the gospel and have not received it, shall be condemned for unbelief. He that believeth not shall be damned. But shall a man be damned for not believing that which is not true? When an unbeliever shall come before the judgment-seat, can he be condemned for not believing that Christ died for him, seeing Christ did not die for him, and the Scriptures did not say that he died for him? Will it be inconsistently replied, that if he had believed that Christ died for him, then he would have died for him? Is not this supposing that he is a believer? But it never can be true of any that shall eventually perish, that Christ died for them, nor can it be duty for such to believe that he died for them. Consequently, it is not sin in them not to believe that he died for them. But all unbelievers shall be condemned, because they believed not the gospel; because they believed not the record that God gave of his son, —and this is the record that God hath given to us, (believers), eternal life, and this life is in his son. This is a truth—a truth declared to them, and by the rejection of this truth, they are in the utmost guilt.—A like account have we of the gospel in the first epistle to Timothy, i. 15. "This is a faithful saying, &c." the saying that is to be believed for salvation, and which is worthy of all acceptation is, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save the chief of sinners. This is the saying, that every one is bound to believe who hears it. This is the saying that is worthy of being received, and for the rejection of which they shall be condemned. The report, then, that Jesus died for all who believe in his atonement is the gospel, and the belief of this gospel is eternal life." (80-93)
"As this fact is of great importance to the comfort of the Christian, as well as to the sinner enquiring the way of salvation, I shall adduce a few other passages. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God."—1 John v. 1. Can any thing exceed the decisiveness of this testimony? The Apostle does not say, that whosoever believeth that Jesus died for him in particular is born of God; but that "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." This is the very faith of which our systematic divines speak so contemptuously. The man who believeth even the fact that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." (93-94)