01 March, 2017



FAQ – The Atonement.


Q. 1. “What is meant by ‘the atonement’?”

Whenever we speak of the atonement, we are using one of the words that the Bible itself uses to describe the benefits of Christ’s death. The word, at least in the Old Testament, means “a covering” and reminds us that Christ’s death provides a covering for our sins before God. The English word refers to the fact that through the death of Christ, God’s people are “reconciled” or “at one” with Him. The death of Christ, in other words, is “at-one-ment.” The Bible, of course, uses many other words such as “ransom,” “reconciliation,” “propitiation,” “satisfaction,” and “redemption.” All of these words differ somewhat in meaning, but they have this in common: they indicate that Christ’s death is our salvation. (Rev. Ronald Hanko, “Saved By Grace: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism,” RFPA, 2002, p. 98.)

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Q. 2. “What is the Reformed truth of Limited (or “Particular”) Atonement?”

When we add the word “limited” [or “particular”], we are answering the question, “For whom did Christ die?” Did He die for every single person who ever lived and ever will live, or did He die only for some people?
The doctrine of limited atonement teaches that Christ died only for some persons, a “limited” number of persons. Those who teach this doctrine would agree that the “limitation” on the atonement is election. In other words, Christ died only for the elect, and it is only the elect who benefit from Christ’s death …
The doctrine of limited atonement teaches that Christ by His death actually saves those for whom He died and does not just make salvation a possibility. In other words, His death is reconciliation with God, satisfaction for sin, redemption, atonement, and all the rest, and it guarantees eternal life to all those for whom He died.  (Rev. Ronald Hanko, “Saved By Grace: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism,” RFPA, 2002, p. 99.)

Check out the following online pamphlets on this very point:

Limited Atonement” (Rev. Gise Van Baren)
For Whom Did Christ Die?” (Rev. Angus Stewart)

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Q. 3. “What sort of problems are apparent in the teaching that Christ died not for some, but for absolutely everybody who ever lived and will live?”

If Christ died for all without exception, and some still perish, then Christ’s death only makes salvation possible, but it does not actually save anyone. Something else is needed for salvation above and beyond the death of Christ. This something else is usually thought to be man’s choice or decision. That, however, means salvation is not by Christ alone and by His blood alone. (Rev. Ronald Hanko, “Saved By Grace: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism,” RFPA, 2002, p. 100.)

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Q. 4. “Where does Scripture teach that the death of Christ and His atoning work was particular or limited to some only?”

Here are some of the main texts that teach a limited/particular atonement:

Isa. 53:8, 11; Matt. 1:21; 20:28; 26:28; Luke 1:68; 19:10; John 6:37-39; 10:14-15, 26-28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 5:8-10; Gal. 3:13; Tit. 2:13-14; Heb. 9:28; I Pet. 2:24

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Q. 5. “How does the teaching of the free offer of the gospel (or the well-meant offer) deny the doctrine of Particular Atonement?”

The free offer of the gospel leads to a denial of particular atonement because a salvation that is intended for all must also be a salvation that is purchased for all. If God, through the gospel, offers salvation to all who hear along with the intent and expressed desire to save all, this salvation must be available. If it is not, the whole offer becomes a farce. If I offer one thousand dollars to each of ten people, if they will come to my house to pick it up, I had better have it somewhere in the house, or I am in trouble. If I do not have all the money that might be needed in the house, I am making a farce of the offer and really lying. If God offers salvation to all who hear and really earnestly desires their salvation, He had (I speak as a man) better have that salvation available. If He does not, the offer becomes a farce. God offers that which He does not have. This makes God a liar and the offer a fake. Hence, the only sense one can make out of the offer is to teach a salvation which was earned by Christ on the cross for everyone. Thus the cross of Christ and the redemption that He accomplished becomes universal in its extent. It is not surprising that Dekker argued in the Sixties within his denomination that because the love and grace of God were general, the atonement was also general. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko, “The History of the Free Offer”—Chapter 11.)

This pestiferous teaching [i.e. ‘the free offer or well-meant offer of the gospel’] has crept into Reformed theology in recent years and is an “enemy in the camp” in that it also constitutes a denial of limited atonement. This error says that God in the gospel makes a sincere and well-meaning offer of salvation to every person who hears the gospel, expressing His desire that all be saved.
If this is true, God is a liar in the preaching of the gospel, for He says what is not true according to the doctrine of limited atonement. His will as revealed in the cross is not that He desires the salvation of all men, but of some only, that is, of His elect. Nor did He send His Son for all men, but for the elect. How, then, can God sincerely say in the gospel that He wants all men to be saved without contradicting Himself and making Himself a liar?
Moreover, it is self-evident that if God really does express in the gospel a desire that all men be saved, the only possible basis for this can be that in some sense of the word, He also sent Christ to die for all men. But that is not limited atonement.
Such teaching is explicitly rejected in the Canons of Dordt, as part of the erroneous teaching of the Arminians (Canons III/IV, Rejection of Errors, 5). It also does serious damage to the cause of Calvinism, for it is the teaching of many who claim to believe in limited atonement, but who actually contradict limited atonement at this very point. (Rev. Ronald Hanko, “Saved By Grace: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism,” RFPA, 2002, pp. 116-117.)

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Q. 6. “John Murray asserts that there is a sense in which ‘Christ died for non-elect persons’ (Collected Writings, vol. 1, p. 68).”

[The] holy Scriptures are completely silent with regard to any non-saving benefits which flowed from the atonement to the reprobate; and those who presume to be teachers of the holy Scriptures would do well to imitate that silence and not set about to build such a doctrinal superstructure upon the foundation of an incidental statement. (Rev. Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review”)

Check out also the following response by Prof. Herman C. Hanko:

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Q. 7. “Christ’s satisfaction and covenantal sponsorship have been an occasion of much good even to the reprobatee.g. via the gospel much good has even come to unbelievers because of the ‘restraints’ thereby imposed on idolatry and ‘hellish impiety.’”

This is actually true. One of the “by-products” of “saving grace” operating amongst the elect is that a restraining influence often reverberates right through to the ungodly. Under such circumstances, sin, instead of parading itself brazenly, only “slinks” along. But to call this effect “grace” is to make a logical jump the nature of the premises will not afford. “Suppression of natural propensities” would be a better description. Even the mafia “watch their step” when the police are around. In a social climate deeply affected by the Christian ethos, many of the godless ape the Christian ethic in many ways out of various and complex motives, mainly because of perceived self-advantage in so doing. (H. L. Williams, “British Reformed Journal” [“The Free Offer Issue,” Part 7)





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