Definite Atonement and The Free Offer of the Gospel

Sometimes people wrongly think that the doctrine of limited/definite atonement means we can’t preach the gospel to all people because we don’t know if Christ died for them or not.  In hyper-calvinistic circles this might show up from time to time.  However, in solid Reformed theology, we don’t focus on God’s hidden decree and will, but his revealed decree and will.  God’s revealed will (Scripture) tells us that Jesus died for sinners, and that whoever repents and believes in him will be saved.  While we don’t look people in the eye and say, “Jesus died for you, believe in him and be saved,” we do look them in the eye and say, “Jesus died for sinners, believe in him, and be saved!”

Louis Berkhof talks about this well in his book Vicarious Atonement Through Christ.  In the paragraphs below, Berkhof quotes William Cunningham.  It’s quite helpful:

It is very evident that our conduct, in preaching the gospel, and in addressing our fellow men with a view to their salvation, should not be regulated by any inferences of our own about the nature, extent, and sufficiency of the provision actually made for saving them, but solely by the directions and instructions which God has given us, by precept and example, to guide us in the matter — unless, indeed, we venture to act upon the principle of refusing to obey God’s commands until we fully understand all the grounds and reasons of them. God has commanded the gospel to be preached to every creature; He has required us to proclaim to our fellow men, of whatever character, and in all varieties of circumstances, the glad tidings of great joy — to hold out to them, in His name, pardon and acceptance through the blood of the atonement — to invite them to come to Christ, and to receive Him — and to accompany all this with the assurance that ‘whosoever cometh to Him, He will in no wise cast out.’

God’s revealed will is the only rule, and ought to be held to be the sufficient warrant for all that we do in this matter — in deciding what is our duty —in making known to our fellow man what are their privileges and obligations — and in setting before them reasons and motives for improving the one and discharging the other. And though this revelation does not warrant us in telling them that Christ died for all and each of the human race — a mode of preaching the gospel never adopted by our Lord and His apostles — yet it does authorize and enable us to lay before men views and considerations, facts and arguments, which, in right reason, should warrant and persuade all to whom they are addressed, to lay hold of the hope set before them….

William Cunningham, quoted in Louis Berkhof, Vicarious Atonement through Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1936), 173–174.

shane lems

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One comment on “Definite Atonement and The Free Offer of the Gospel

  1. Ron says:

    I wholly agree with limited atonement in soteriology, but in cosmology I hold to a universal sense, else the whole creation, groaning, would have no hope of redemption.
    Calvinists do not face 1 John 2:2 squarely unless the extent of the atonement is to the whole kosmos in some sense.
    No need to split over it, imho.

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