A Triune Perspective on Limited (Definite) Atonement

The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide Edwin Palmer (d. 1980) wrote a helpful book called The Five Points of Calvinism.  This is a good resource for those who want a detailed yet readable and relatively brief explanation of the doctrines of grace.  Here’s an edited summary of Palmer’s discussion of Limited (Definite) Atonement which he explains in a Trinitarian and biblical way.  The doctrine of Limited Atonement is based on:

1) The Father’s Election.  Since the objects of the Father’s saving love are particular, definite, and limited (Amos 3:2, Rom. 1:7, 8:29, 9:13, Col. 3:12, 1 Thess. 1:4, Jude 1) so are the objects of Christ’s death.  Because God has loved certain ones and not all, because he has sovereignly and immutably determined that these particular ones will be saved, he sent his Son to die for them, to save them, and not all the world.  Because there is a definite election, there is a definite atonement.  Because there is a particular election, there is a particular atonement.  God’s electing love and Christ’s atonement go hand in hand and have the same people in view.  There is unity between the work of the Father and the Son.

2) The Son’s Atonement.  The Bible teaches the death of Jesus in at least four different ways.  When Christ died, 1) he made a substitutionary sacrifice for sins (Heb. 9-10); 2) he propitiated, that is, appeased or placated, the righteous wrath of God (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17, 2 John 2:2; 4:10); 3) he reconciled his people to God – that is, he removed the enmity between them and God (Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:20, etc.); and 4) he redeemed them from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). …The nature of the atonement – what did Christ actually do? – answers the question: For whom did Christ die?  The noun (atonement) defines its adjective (limited).  If the atonement does not actually save, does not really remove God’s curse from people, does not actually redeem them, then it indeed can be for all the world, even for those who are in hell.  But if the death of Jesus is what the Bible says it is – a substitutionary sacrifice for sins, an actual and not a hypothetical redemption, whereby the sinner is really reconciled to God – then obviously, it cannot be for every man in the world.  For then everybody would be saved, and obviously they are not.

3) The Spirit’s Indwelling. In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul notes (in line with Romans 6) that if Christians are dead to sin, then they are made alive in Christ.  If they are spiritually buried with Christ, they will spiritually rise with him.  Although Paul does not state it explicitly in this passage, we know from the rest of Scripture that this is possible only through the Holy Spirit’s work.  …There is an inexorable chain of events in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: a) Christ died for all believers; therefore b) all believers die spiritually in Christ; and c) they all rise again spiritually in Christ.  If (a) is stated, (b) and (c) must follow.  …The Holy Spirit does not apply the death of Christ to all people, leaving it in their hands ultimately as to whether or not they would be saved.  Rather, the Spirit comes to those people whom the Father had chosen and for whom the Son had died and he causes them to die to sin and be born again.

In summary, the purpose of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit coincide.  They strive for and accomplish the same purpose: The salvation of those whom the Father has loved with a special love.

To read these three points in their entirety, see pages 52-60 in The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010).

shane lems

Owen’s Conclusion

The Works of John Owen, Volume 10: The Death of Christ I appreciate how John Owen ended his book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.  I’ve put it in linear format to make it easier to read.

Only, for a close, I desire the reader to peruse that one place, Rom. 8:32–34; and I make no doubt but that he will, if not infected with the leaven of the error opposed, conclude with me,
that if there be any comfort,
any consolation,
any assurance,
any rest,
any peace,
any joy,
any refreshment,
any exultation of spirit,
to be obtained here below, it is all to be had in the blood of Jesus long since shed,
and his intercession still continued;
as both are united and appropriated to the elect of God,
by the precious effects and fruits of them both drawn to believe and preserved in believing,
to the obtaining of an immortal crown of glory, that shall not fade away.

Owen, John. The Works of John Owen Ed. William H. Goold. Vol. 10. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark), 421.

shane lems

A Metanarrative Distraction?

N.T. Wright and others in the New Perspectives on Paul movement have given us some helpful insights into biblical theology.  We should not deny this even if we might very much disagree [as I do] with the NPP’s [re]definitions of justification, covenant, law, etc.  I have to admit, though, when I read Wright, I often question his interpretive emphasis on Israel.  It seems to me that Wright finds the story of Israel under almost every interpretive stone in the Bible.  J. I. Packer hints at this well in his contribution to the book, In My Place Condemned He Stood.

“In recent years, great strides in biblical theology and contemporary canonical exegesis have brought new precision to our grasp of the Bible’s overall story of how God’s plan to bless Israel, and thorough Israel the world, came to its climax in and through Christ.  But I do not see how it can be denied that each New Testament book, whatever other job it may be doing, has in view, in one way or another, Luther’s primary question: how may a weak, perverse, and guilty sinner find a gracious God?”

“Nor can it be denied that real Christianity only starts when that discovery is made.  And to the extent that modern developments, by filling our horizon with the great metanarrative, distract us from pursuing Luther’s question in personal terms, they hinder as well as help in our appreciation of the gospel.”

“The church is and will always be at its healthiest when every Christian can line up with every other Christian to sing… P. P. Bliss’ simple words, which really say it all:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with this blood -
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

J. I. Packer, “Introduction: Penal Substitution Revisited” in In My Place Condemned He Stood ed. J. I. Packer and Mark Dever (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).

shane lems

Christ’s Passion, God’s Patience, Our Portion

In a sermon on Lamentations 1:12 called “No Sorrow Like Messiah’s Sorrow” John Newton explained how our sorrow and suffering is always mingled with God’s mercy and patience.  Christ’s suffering on the cross, however, included no mercy or mitigation.

“Did ever any other sufferer experience in an equal degree the day of God’s fierce anger?”

“In the greatest of our sufferings, in those which bear the strongest marks of the Lord’s displeasure, there is always some mitigation, some mixture of mercy.  At the worst, we still have reason to acknowledge that ‘he hath not dealt with us after our sins, or according to the full desert of our iniquities.’”

“If we are in pain, we do not feel every kind of pain at once, yet we can give no sufficient reason why we should not.”

“If we are exercised with poverty and losses, yet something worth the keeping, and more than we can justly claim, is still left to us; at least our lives are spared, though forfeited by sin.”

“If we are in distress of soul, tossed with tempest and not comforted, we are not quite out of the reach of hope.  Even if sickness, pain, loss, and despair should overtake us in the same moment, all is still less than we deserve.”

“Our proper desert is hell, an exclusion from God, and confinement with Satan and his angels, ‘where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.’  Everything short of this is a mercy.”

“But Jesus, though he had no sin of his own, bore the sins of many.  His sufferings were indeed temporary, limited in their duration, but otherwise extreme.  Witness the effects, his heaviness unto death, his consternation, his bloody sweat, his eclipse upon the cross, when deprived of that presence [of the Father] which was his only and exceeding joy.  On these accounts, no sorrow was like unto his sorrow!”

“The unknown sorrows of the Redeemer are a continual source of support and consolation to his believing people.  In his sufferings they contemplate his atonement, his love, and his example and they are animated by the bright and glorious issue [topic].  For he has passed from death to life, from suffering to glory.”

John Newton, Sermon #23, The Works of John Newton, Vol 4.

shane lems
hammond wi

The Blood of Christ

I’m reading through Blood Work by Anthony Carter.  I’m very impressed with this book – it is clear, biblical, concise, and very edifying.  It would be a good read for Christians who are still learning the basics about the atonement; it would also be a great book for a book club.  Actually, this is a good one for all Christians, since we always need to hear about the precious blood of Christ and what it means for sinners.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“The Bible says that Christ has paid the price for us. He bought us; therefore, He owns us. Furthermore, He did not purchase His people on credit; He paid in full. We are His” (Kindle Locations 397-398).

“He has purchased us by His blood. He will not return or exchange what He has bought” (Kindle Location 426).

“We have often heard it said, ‘The one who serves as his own attorney has a fool for a client.’ If this is true in our courts, how much more true is it in the courts of heaven? Self-defense may be plausible when we are standing before human judges. It is self-destructive when we stand before God” (Kindle Locations 633-635).

“…When the Bible speaks of election, it is not talking about the choice of presidents, mayors, or city council members. Biblical election is the sovereign act of God in choosing sinners to be saints. By comparison, human election is conditional—we elect those we like, who hold our values. God’s election is unconditional— before anyone is able to do good or bad, God chooses those upon whom He determines to show His saving love” (Rom. 9:11–13) (Kindle Locations 723-726).

At the time of this posting Blood Work is free on Kindle – or you can get a hard copy of it as well.  Highly recommended!

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Christian Sacrifices

  I’ve appreciated this “sleeper” layman’s commentary on Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews by R. T. France (Hendrikson: Peabody, 2001).  The comments are short, sweet, biblical, and practical.  For example, this week I’m studying Hebrews 13:15-16, where the author talks about how Christians should offer up sacrifices to God through Christ.  Here are some of France’s comments.

“Verses 9-14 (of Hebrews 13) have focused on the distance which has now developed between the old sacrificial regime of the temple/tabernacle and the new Christian place of exile ‘outside the camp.’  These comments, together with the teaching of chapters 9 and 10 about the inadequacy of the Old Testament sacrifices and their eclipse now by the one perfect sacrifice of Christ, might suggest that a Christian church may now safely forget about ‘sacrifice.’  Not at all, says our author!”

“Animal sacrifices are now obsolete: Christ has offered the only atoning sacrifice which we can ever need.  But there are other types of sacrifices for us to offer, not as a means of obtaining God’s grace and forgiveness, but in simple thanksgiving for the salvation we have received.”

“The first [sacrifice] is praise, the sort of ‘spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God’ which 1 Peter 2:5 calls for, and which is further defined there as ‘proclaiming the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’ (1 Peter 2:9).  For the lips that ‘confess his name’ cannot but speak of the saving acts which his very name denotes (especially in its Hebrew form Yahweh, the living God, and the name of Jesus, the Savior).”

“But secondly there is also the sacrifice of doing good, without which any claims to Christian faith is a sham (James 2:14-26).  ‘Doing good’ (v. 16) is very broad, but the author links it more specifically with ‘sharing.’  Here he uses a word (koinonia) which we often translate by ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion,’ but which in the New Testament is very often used with a more directly financial and material sense, and that is the focus of the ‘good works’ called for in verse 16.”

As with all commentaries, you probably won’t agree with every point France makes, but overall the commentary is well worth having.

R. T. France, Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews, p. 214.

shane lems

Arminians, Calvinists, and Limited Atonement

What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?Here’s a great insight from a great book: What’s So Great About The Doctrines of Grace? by Richard Phillips.

“…It is helpful to note that both Arminians and Calvinists believe in limited atonement.  The question is with regard to what is limited.  Arminians believe that the atonement is limited in terms of its efficacy.  Calvinists believe the atonement is limited in the scope of people for whom it was intended.  Arminians believe the atonement is unlimited in scope but limited in effect: it offers everyone the chance of salvation.  Calvinists believe the atonement is limited in scope but unlimited in effect: it effectually saves the elect.” 

“If we think of the atonement as a bridge spanning a great river, Arminians see it as infinitely wide, but not reaching all the way to the far bank; Calvinists hold that the atonement is a narrow bridge, wide enough only for the elect, but reaching all the way to the other side.  We [Calvinists] believe that Christ’s death actually saves those for whom He died” (p. 56).

Richard Phillips, What’s So Great About The Doctrines of Grace?

rev. shane lems