Definite Atonement, the Gospel Call, and Rejecting Christ (Newton)

 In a sermon on John 1:29, John Newton discussed definite atonement and the free offer of the gospel.  He admitted there is mystery in this area of Scripture’s teaching:

“I am not disheartened by meeting with some things beyond the grasp of my scanty powers in a book which I believe to be inspired by Him whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours, ‘as the heavens are higher than the earth.’

Later in the sermon, Newton said that the biblical command for “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) implies a “warrant to believe in the name of Jesus, as taking away the sin of the world.”  It’s a serious call to repentance and faith, a kind summons for sinners to receive free forgiveness in Christ.

Let it not be said that to call upon men to believe, which is an act beyond their natural power, is to mock them.  There are prescribed means for the obtaining of faith, which it is not beyond their natural power to comply with, if they are not wilfully obstinate.  We have the word of God for our authority.  ‘God cannot be mocked,’ neither doth he mock his creatures.  Our Lord did not mock the young ruler when he told him that if he would sell his possessions on earth, and follow him, ‘he should have treasure in heaven.’  Had this ruler no power to sell his possessions?  I doubt not but that he himself thought he had power to sell them if he pleased….

…We cannot ascribe too much to the grace of God [in the salvation of sinners], but we should be careful that, under a semblance of exalting his grace, we do not furnish the slothful and unfaithful with excuses for their wilfulness and wickedness.  God is gracious; but let man be justly responsible for his own evil, and not presume to state his case so, as would, by just consequence, represent the holy God as being the cause of the sin which he hates and forbids.

These are some excellent points to remember.  The teaching of Scripture is that it is right and proper to call all people to repentance and faith, sincerely promising them that if they come to Christ, they will receive forgiveness and eternal life.  It’s also true that salvation is all of grace, yet God is not to blame when sinners reject the gospel call.

The entire sermon – which is very much worth reading! – is called “The Lamb of God, the Great Atonement” and it is found in volume four of Newton’s Works.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54014

Evangelism and Definite Atonement[?] (Murray)

 Sometimes people say that the doctrines of grace get in the way of evangelism.  They say that Calvinism is a detriment when sharing the gospel.  However, when approached biblically, the doctrines of grace actually help us share the gospel better in various ways.  For one excellent example, here’s what John Murray wrote about evangelism and definite atonement:

“It is often argued that the doctrine of definite or limited atonement is quite foreign and even inimical to the interests of evangelism.  For how, it may be plausibly protested, can salvation be freely offered to the lost and its claims pressed upon them if salvation has been procured only for a limited number?  Proper analysis of the salvation offered to lost men will show, however, that only on the basis of a definite atonement can full salvation be offered to lost men.  True evangelism must ever bear in mind that it is not the mere possibility of salvation, nor simply provision for salvation, that is offered freely in the gospel.  It is rather salvation full, perfect, and free.  For it is Christ in all the glory of his person as Savior and Redeemer, and in all the perfection of his finished work, who is offered to sinners in the gospel.

This glory and this perfection that reside in Christ as Savior have come to reside in him only by virtue of what he has done in his capacity as the captain of salvation.  And what he has done in th is capacity is not that he made the salvation of all men possible, nor that he made provision for the salvation of all, but rather that he wrought and purchased redemption.  It is salvation with such completeness and perfection that is presented to lost men in the full, free, and unfettered call of the gospel.  But only on the basis of a limited atonement could such salvation and redemption be wrought, and only on the basis of a limited atonement can such salvation be offered.

…If we universalize the extent of the atonement we must limit its efficacy, and when we limit its efficacy it is an impoverished and truncated salvation that the ministers of evangelism have to offer.  Just as we mutilate the salvation offered, so do we empty our message of the irresistible appeal that the proclamation of a full and perfect salvation provides.  Evangelism thereby not only proves itself unfaithful to the fulness of the gospel, but also robs itself of that which is indispensable to its effectiveness, namely, the recognition on the part of men of the claim, privilege, and opportunity that the full and free offer of Christ entails.

John Murray, “The Message of Evangelism,” in Collected Writings, vol. 1, p 127-8.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Ransom For All (Ryken)

 In 1 Timothy 2:6a Paul says that Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all” (NET).  What does this mean? Did Jesus redeem every person from sin and death?  I appreciate Philip Ryken’s comments on  this verse:

Calling Jesus a ransom for all men is something like calling your local physician the town doctor. In a small town, he is the only doctor there is. When you see him on the street, you say, “There goes our doctor.” This does not necessarily mean that we are presently going to him for treatment. Whether or not he turns out to be our doctor depends on whether or not we get sick, and whether we are willing to go to him when we do. But he is still the town doctor.

Jesus is like the town doctor. He is the Savior of the world. He is accessible to everyone. He has promised to save anyone who comes to him in faith and repentance. But the fact that his death is a ransom does not mean that our own sins have been paid for. Whether we go to him for salvation or not depends on whether or not we realize that we need to be saved, and whether we are willing to go to him when we do. But whether we go to him or not, he is still the Savior of the world, “who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

Once it is understood that “all” means “all kinds” rather than “each and every,” we can reconcile what Paul said to Timothy with what Jesus said to his disciples: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul is not saying anything more than Jesus said. A ransom for many is a ransom for all when “all” means “all kinds.”

 Ryken, P. G. (2007). 1 Timothy. (R. D. Phillips, D. M. Doriani, & P. G. Ryken, Eds.) (pp. 70–71). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Definite Atonement and Christ’s Intercession (Owen)

One of the major biblical reasons why I believe and teach the doctrine of limited atonement (better: definite atonement) has to do with Jesus’ work of salvation.  Specifically, the Bible teaches that Jesus’ obedience, suffering, and death is very much connected to his resurrection, ascension, and intercession (Is. 53:12b, Rom. 8:33-34).  Those for whom Jesus obeyed, suffered, and died are the same ones for whom he rose, ascended, and intercedes.  John Owen made this argument in The Death of Death, where he says that Christ’s oblation and his intercession are intimately connected:

“…They are both alike intended for the obtaining and accomplishing the same entire and complete end proposed, that is, the effectual bringing of many sons to glory, for the praise of God’s grace.  …The object of the one is of no larger extent than the object of the other.  In other words, Christ intercedes on behalf of the ones he offered himself for, and only those, as he says himself in John 17:19.

…The sole end why Christ procured anything by his death was that it might be applied to them for whom it was so procured.  The sum is, that the oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ are one entire means for the producing of the same effect, the very end of the oblation being that all those things which are bestowed by the intercession of Christ, and without whose application it should certainly fail of the end proposed in it….”

We cannot say that Christ died for all and only intercedes for some, since Paul said that Christ who died for us also intercedes for us (Rom. 8:33-34).  Again, here’s Owen:

“That he died for all and intercedeth only for some will scarcely be squared to this text, especially considering the foundation of all this, which is (verse 32) the love of God which moved him to give up Christ do death for us all; upon which the apostle infers a kind of impossibility in not giving us all good things in him;  which how it can be reconciled with their opinion who affirm that he gave his Son for millions to whom he will give neither grace nor glory, I cannot see.

The extent of Christ’s atonement matches the extent of his intercession.  His atonement is limited to the elect, as is his intercession.  It’s not theological nitpicking; this has to do with the glorious work of Christ!  We never want to detract or subtract from Christ’s work.  Furthermore, it is a great comfort to know that Jesus definitely died for me and now definitely intercedes for me! He left nothing undone in the work of redemption.  So I can rest comfortably in his finished work.

The above quotes (edited for readability and length) are found in Owen’s The Death of Death, p. 68-70.

Shane Lems

A Dilemma of Universalism (Owen)

John Owen’s classic, The Death of Death, is not the easiest book to read, but it sure is worth the effort!  Since I’ll be preaching through the doctrines of grace later this Summer, I’m reading Owen’s book again as part of sermon preparation.  Here’s a helpful section I ran across this morning.  Owen said this is one of the dilemmas of Universalism:

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for
1) either all the sins of all men,
2) all the sins of some men,
3) some sins of all men.

If the last (3), some sins of all men, then  all men have some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. 130:3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isa. 2:20, 21.

If the second (2), that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first (1), (all the sins of all men) why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If it is not sin, why should they be punished for it? If it is sin, then either Christ underwent the punishment due to it or he did not. If he did, then why must that hinder them from partaking of the fruit of his death more than their other sins for which he died?  If he did not undergo the punishment do to the sin of unbelief, then did he not die for all their sins.

Let them choose which part they will.

NOTE: I’ve edited the above a bit to make it easier to read.  The quote can be found in John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 10 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 173–174.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI