The Limited Atonement
By Pastor Burke
(Please read Isaiah 53:4-6, 8, 10-12)
We’ve asked you to read these verses simply as a foundation for our subject. I believe these verses most assuredly teach the limited atonement of Christ for His people.
We will now consider our subject in 5 points, which are as follows:
1. First, we want to consider the meaning of the atonement.
The English word atonement is found 70 times in the Scriptures, 69 times in the Old Testament and only once in the New Testament. There are some other words for the atonement used in the New Testament, which we will also see.
The word atonement essentially means “At-one-ment”. Thus, to make atonement means to reconcile or to make reconciliation. In the Bible reconciliation means to bring a Holy God into a loving relationship with sinful man so as to make perfect peace between them.
Romans 5:10-11 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
The word atonement also means satisfaction, or the price that was paid to make reconciliation between a Holy God and sinful man. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was the price that was paid to make satisfaction for sin, which satisfied God’s wrath upon guilty sinners.
Isaiah 53:11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
The word propitiation is also used in the New Testament to describe the atonement.
1 John 4:10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The word propitiation means to appease or to expiate the sin and guilt of sinners. So then the atoning work of Christ appeased God’s wrath that was due to wicked vile sinners because of our sins. And the same Greek word translated propitiation is also translated “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5. The mercy seat was the cover of the ark of the covenant where the high priest sprinkled the blood of the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.
It was on the mercy seat that God’s wrath was appeased when the blood of the atoning sacrifice was applied thereon. Christ, beloved, is our Mercy Seat. He is our High Priest, and He is also the sacrifice that appeased God’s wrath for our sins. It was His blood that He sprinkled on the Mercy Seat in Heaven that propitiated or appeased God’s wrath that was due to wicked sinners.
2. Secondly, we want to consider the necessity of the atonement.
“Limited atonement” is the “L” in the center of the “TULIP” doctrines, as they are often referred. The atonement is right at the center or the heart of the doctrines of grace, as it should be.
The first two doctrines of grace make necessary the atonement. That fact that man is totally depraved makes the atonement necessary and essential for his salvation. Without the atoning work of Christ no man could be saved from his sin!
And the fact that God elected a people unto salvation from among Adam’s sinful fallen race, also requires that an Atoning Sacrifice be made to pay the price for their sins. Without Christ’s atonement for sin, the election would be of no effect and would have no purpose.
So then, without the Atonement of Christ their would be, and could be no salvation of sinners. All of the other doctrines of grace are dependant upon the atonement of Christ to be effectual.
3. Thirdly, we want to consider the substitutionary nature of the atonement (Read Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24; 1 Pet. 3:18).
The basis for the doctrine of the limited atonement is the fact that the atoning sacrifice of Christ was vicarious, or substitutionary “the just for (or in the stead of) the unjust”. The atoning Sacrifice of Christ was the exact, the actual, and the literal price necessary for our pardon, which the Holy law of God demanded as payment for our sins. Jesus suffered the exact penalty that the sinner would have been required to suffer in hell for his own sins. This was done, not merely for our potential benefit, but literally in our room and stead, as if we individually were in Christ suffering and dying for our sins. Paul said “I am crucified with Christ…” as if he was on the cross with Christ suffering for his sins!
The vicarious or substitutionary nature of the atonement is most crucial to understanding the doctrine of the limited atonement. Since the atonement of Christ was substitutionary, only the sinners for whom He suffered and died in their room and stead are atoned for; all others will be made to suffer for their own sins.
4. Fourthly, we want to see the extent of the atonement.
We will consider the extent of the atonement in 2 aspects.
1) First, we want to consider the unlimited aspects of the atonement of Christ.
We speak about the limited atonement a lot as Baptists, and of course we will get to that in a few minutes, yet we don’t very often consider the unlimited aspects of the atonement. But there are some ways that the atonement is unlimited; at least unlimited to our finite minds.
The atonement is unlimited in its scope. Notice the following verses:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
We understand that the word world has different meanings depending on the context of its usage. In these and other similar passages, the word “world” is speaking of all kinds of people.
People from every nationality, from every ethnic group, from every race and color, throughout all of time, from Adam to the end of the world. The atoning work of Christ wasn’t limited to the Jews only (although salvation was to the Jew first), but it extends to all kinds of people everywhere in the world. To the Jews in Christ’s day this was big news, and to most of them, it was bad news, which caused even greater rejection and hatred for Christ. The Jews thought that their Messiah would be their Savior only! But they didn’t know the Scriptures, which teach the salvation of the Gentiles also!
So then, the atonement is unlimited in its scope and its reach over geographical, ethnic, cultural, and national boundaries, as well as the boundaries of time. The great commission given by Jesus to His Church expresses this fact… Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20…“Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” and “low I’m with you alway, even unto the end of the world”. That covers all people of all time.
Next, the atonement of Christ is unlimited in its ability to atone for any and all sinners who come unto Jesus.
“The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”… “Praise the Lord!!! Praise the Lord!!! Let the earth hear His voice!!!” There is no sinner who has sinned too great a sin, or too many sins that the sacrifice of Christ cannot atone for…
1 Timothy 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
Jesus atoned for all kinds of sinners who were guilty of the vilest of sins, therefore the atonement of Christ is unlimited in its ability to save lost, undone, guilty, vile sinners, such as you and me. There is no sinner that Jesus can’t save and that His blood can’t atone for!
2) Secondly, we want to consider the limited nature of the atonement…
Essentially, the doctrine of the limited atonement menas that the atonement of Christ was intended for, and sufficient for, and efficient for the elect of God, and only the elect…that the blood of Christ atoned only for the sins of God’s elect whom He chose, whom He foreknew, whom He would effectually call by the gospel, and whom He would in time glorify.
All professing Christians who have given this subject any real thought, must admit that the atonement must be limited, at least to some extent. No one that I have ever talked to on this subject believes that the atonement of Christ was intended for either Satan or the host of fallen angels who sinned against God. No one seems to care that God didn’t atone for them???
But these same folks get upset at the idea that God would not provide an atonement for all men without exception. They get angry at the idea that God would design the atonement exclusively for a people of His own choosing, and that all the rest would be left to perish in their sins.
But the fact is beloved, that God is God, and He does whatsoever He pleases with His own; and He is perfectly just to save some and to damn others, seeing that all men are worthy of His wrath. But the proud heart of man will not accept or allow God to exercise His divine prerogative over His creation, to do with it whatsoever He will.
Does God not have the right to choose, to atone for, to save, and bring to glory a people as it pleases Him? Romans #9 teaches us that He does! Who is man to question God? Who is man to reply against God? Who is man to tell God what He can or cannot do with His own? The fact is, beloved, regardless of what proud and haughty men might think, God has limited the atonement to those He elected and predestinated unto salvation and eternal glory.
But why, you might ask, must the atonement of Christ be limited?
Because, as we’ve already seen, the atonement of Christ is substitutionary. Since Jesus actually died for the individual sins of individual sinners, in their room and stead, then it must be that all sinners He atoned for must be pardoned of their sins. The holy, righteous justice of God requires that sin be paid for, but it must only be paid for once. Therefore, if Jesus paid a sinner’s sin debt and suffered their eternal hell in their room and stead, the sinner will never have to do so. The justice of God will not punish the same sins twice.
Beloved, since hell is a real place where sinners will suffer for their sins, then Christ could not possibly have atoned for sinners who end up in that awful place of torments. This truly would be unjust. It would be unjust to Christ who suffered for sinners who also will suffer for these same sins. It would not only be unjust to Christ, but it would also make a mockery of His work on the cross, and render His atonement ineffective and of no value to the multitudes of sinners in hell.
Those who believe in a universal atonement, that is, that Christ died and atoned for all men without exception, cannot believe that the atonement was substitutionary. They cannot believe that Christ actually and literally suffered for any particular sinner and their sins. They can only believe that the atoning sacrifice of Christ merely made it possible for God to save sinners, but that the blood of Christ didn’t actually and literally atone for anyone, or reconcile anyone to God.
If, beloved, Christ didn’t actually suffer in the room and stead of sinners, how then are their sins paid for? If Christ didn’t actually and literally suffer for our sins, then will our sins go unpunished? Will the justice of God not be meted out on our sins? Was the death of Christ merely a formality that in reality accomplished nothing for certain for anyone, but only made possible for God to forgo His justice upon everyone of Adam’s sinful fallen race? This is what the universal atonement advocates must ultimately concede to.
And the teaching of the sufficiency and efficiency of the atonement (which many professing sovereign grace Baptists believe today) is also a fallacy. Since the atonement of Christ was substitutionary, His sacrifice can only be sufficient and efficient for those He atoned for. Beloved, sufficiency must equal efficiency! How could the atonement of Christ be sufficient for all men, including those He did not die in the room and stead of? And how could His atonement be sufficient for sinners suffering in hell? This is inconsistent, contradictory, and a futile attempt to compromise with the universal atonement heresy.
Beloved, all such thinking is foolish! All such thinking is a mockery to God and His holiness, as well as His justice.
5. Fifthly we want to consider, The limited atonement and the free offer of the Gospel.
How does the doctrine of the limited atonement affect our gospel ministry? Does it render our message insincere to the non-elect for which the atonement was not intended? That is what we are accused of. The answer lies in our presentation of the gospel. What do we tell lost sinners? Do we tell them that “God loves you” and “Jesus died for you, and He wants to save you, if only you will believe. Jesus did everything necessary for your salvation, now its up to you to accept His offer”. That is one message being propagated today, but it is the wrong message?
Beloved, what we need to tell lost sinners is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners…that Jesus died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and rose again the third day… and whosoever repents and believes that Jesus suffered, bled, and died for them shall be saved.
It is not our place to say who God loves redemptively. It is not our place to say who Christ died for, and who His blood atoned for. Nor is it our place to guess and speculate who the elect are. But it is our place to preach the gospel to every creature… to tell them what Christ came into the world to do, and what He accomplished on the cross for sinners. Beloved, God will call His people through the gospel, and give faith to His elect, whoever and wherever they are.
We preach the gospel as a statement of fact about who Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross, and God makes it effectual as he sees fit in accordance with His eternal plan and purpose.
So, beloved, it is not insincere to tell all men about Jesus Christ and His work on the cross for sinners. The Holy Spirit is the One who must reveal this truth to the hearts of sinners in the new birth. That is His business. Our business is simply to tell sinners about Jesus and His power to save all who will come unto Him by faith.
In conclusion, was the atoning sacrifice of Christ intended for you? Are you one for whom Christ died and shed His precious blood? Are you one of the elect? How can you know?
Romans 3:24-25 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
We notice the words “through faith in His blood”. This is how God applies the atoning work of Christ to sinners, by giving them faith in His blood…by giving them faith to repent and believe the gospel…that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins, that He was buried in the tomb, and that He rose again the third day for them. The atoning work of Christ is applied through faith.
If you believe in your heart that Jesus died for you, that His atoning blood was shed for your sins, then you can be sure that you are one of God’s elect, and that His limited atonement was made for you. It is by faith in the blood, and only by faith that we can know that we are the redeemed, the elect, and the beloved of God.
Finally, I hope that this message will help strengthen the saints of God, and encourage you to continue believing in this most precious doctrine of the limited atonement. Don’t let the errors of false religion discourage your faith in the limited atonement, and all the precious doctrines of God’s amazing grace. God help us all to stand strong for these precious truths of His Word.