This is the second installment of a guest post continuing from HERE. Mike is a British brother in Christ who have been a friend of our blog for years. Mike’s blog can be found HERE.
I sometimes think about the cross,
And close my eyes, and try to see
The cruel nails, and crown of thorns,
And Jesus crucified for me.
(v4 of the Hymn ‘It is a thing most wonderful’ by William Walsham How, 1823 – 97)
That’s how a message given by Stuart Olyott began on Limited Atonement many years ago. I understand what it means but like Stuart, Particular Redemption is preferable because it is just that, particular. But we could also add Definite Atonement because something was accomplished not merely made possible. As I began looking at this subject a long time ago, many ministers were questioned, but Stuart was the only one that said I needed to see it for myself. He was right and by God’s grace I did ‘see it’. It was in that same message the book by Grace Publications (Great Christian Classics, ‘Life by His Death’) was recommended that I quickly bought. Space will not permit discussing it all here but if you follow the recommendations below you will be helped to not only come to terms with it but embrace it and rejoice in it. And, believe it or not, it will actually help, not hinder, your Gospel ministry.
1. The Problem Stated
So the topic at hand, in a nutshell revolves around seeking to reconcile the fact that Jesus died only for His people and the free offer of the Gospel. It’s the L of the TULIP acrostic and can be the most problematic for believers to deal with. At the beginning of John Owen’s great treatise on ‘The Death of Death in the Death of Christ’ he makes this comment in the introduction:
If thou intendest to go any farther, I would entreat thee to stay here a little. If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again, — thou hast had thy entertainment; farewell! With him that resolves a serious view of the following discourse, and really desireth satisfaction from the word and Christian reason, about the great things contained therein, I desire a few words in the portal.’ ….
‘I shall only crave thy leave to preface a little to the point in hand, and my present undertaking therein, with the result of some of my thoughts concerning the whole, after a more than seven-years’ serious inquiry (bottomed, I hope, upon the strength of Christ, and guided by his Spirit) into the mind of God about these things, with a serious perusal of all which I could attain that the wit of man, in former or latter days, hath published in opposition to the truth; which I desire, according to the measure of the gift received, here to assert.’ (Source:http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/deathofdeath.i.v.html)
So if you are coming to this topic expecting it all to be resolved in a few sound bites or a blog post only to move on to the next theological knot, you are going to be disappointed. If you really want to come to terms with this topic – and the truth of it – it’s going to take longer than you think and will most likely be hard work.
2. Why the Difficulty?
There are a number of reasons. One has already been alluded to. We think if we can tell everyone that God loves them (particularly) and that Jesus died for them we have a much better Gospel message. It means we can throw out the confetti of God’s’ love upon all. That makes us feel better. We don’t have to be negative. We don’t have to get bogged down with thinking through what we say. We don’t have to be precise. Believing in a ‘Limited Atonement’ makes us feel limited, restricted in what we can say. We don’t like that. We want to know Christ died for all – it’s so much nicer! There’s a more serious difficulty however; and it’s our rebellious hearts. Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we are no longer rebels. We still rebel deep down at the Sovereignty of God. We want to be in control. We can’t. And it hurts. We need to repent of this and submit to the Divine will.
3. The Accomplishment of the Doctrine
The Accomplishment of the Doctrine is perhaps not the best way to put it but it’s a way of saying the death of Christ accomplished something. It did something. It obtained something. What did it obtain? Scripture tells us in Hebrews 9:12 that ‘he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. Or as the AV puts it; ‘having obtained eternal redemption for us’. What an insult to say otherwise. Poor God He could only make Salvation possible. And poor Jesus, all that suffering and shame, but He could only make Salvation possible. He didn’t really DO anything. Jesus didn’t say ‘it could be finished’ or ‘I’ve started now you finish it’. No!
John 19:30 ‘he said, it is finished’;
that is, the whole will of God; as that he should be incarnate, be exposed to shame and reproach, and suffer much, and die; the whole work his Father gave him to do, which was to preach the Gospel, work miracles, and obtain eternal salvation for his people, all which were now done, or as good as done; the whole righteousness of the law was fulfilled, an holy nature assumed, perfect obedience yielded to it, and the penalty of death endured; hence a perfect righteousness was finished agreeably to the law, which was magnified and made honourable by it, andredemption from its curse and condemnation secured; sin was made an end of, full atonement and satisfaction for it were given; complete pardon procured, peace made, and redemption from all iniquity obtained; all enemies were conquered; all types, promises, and prophecies were fulfilled, and his own course of life ended: the reason of his saying so was, because all this was near being done, just upon finishing, and was as good as done; and was sure and certain, and so complete, that nothing need, or could be added to it; and it was done entirely without the help of man, and cannot be undone; all which since has more clearly appeared by Christ’s resurrection from the dead, his entrance into heaven, his session at God’s right hand, the declaration of the Gospel, and the application of salvation to particular persons: (Commentary of John Gill – John 19:30) (Emphases are mine)
View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies;
Then on Calvary’s tree behold Him,
Hear Him cry, before He dies,
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Sinner, will not this suffice?
(Joseph Hart, 1712-68)
(v5 from ‘Christian Hymns’, Eds, Paul Cook & Graham Harrison, Evangelical Press)
4. The Particularity of the Doctrine
The particularity of the doctrine is why Particular Redemption is preferred. When Christ died on the Cross He was, as we have seen, accomplishing something not for an amorphous mass but for a particular people – individuals. When the Apostle said ‘….the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ Gal 2:21 who was He thinking of?.
There are many verses but here are a few to whet your appetite and to thank God that He thought of YOU! John 10:11; John 10:14; John 10:27.
Have you heard the voice of Jesus
Softly pleading with your heart?
Have you felt His presence glorious,
As He calls your soul apart,
With a love so true and loyal,
Love divine that ever flows
From a Saviour, righteous, royal,
And a cross that mercy shows?
(William Vernon Higham 1926 – )
5. What is Limited?
I understand what Limited means but it can somehow convey the sense that God Himself is limited, or that the Blood of Christ is somehow limited. It simply means Christ died only for the Elect. But the Blood of Jesus Christ would have been sufficient if God so willed it to purchase 10 million, or more, worlds of sinners. But the cost would have been just the same had He only died for one person. So Christ only atoned for, or propitiated the wrath of God only for the Elect. My dear fellow believer just think on that for a while and try to take it in.
O teach me what it meaneth:
That sacred crimson tide,
The blood and water flowing
From Thine own wounded side.
Teach me that if none other
*Had sinned, but I alone,
Yet still, Thy blood, Lord Jesus,
Thine only, must atone.
(Lucy Ann Bennett, 1850 – 1927.)
6. Use of Means
There seems to be a misunderstanding on this point. It’s as if because we believe in the doctrines of Grace (TULIP if you will) any input by man is not required. This is false. The Scriptures clearly say ‘how shall they believe unless someone preach to them…’ That doesn’t just mean hearing the message of Salvation from a pulpit, it includes hearing it in conversation over the garden fence or chatting over a coffee in Costa (Insert favourite coffee house). Sometimes God can move in extraordinary ways, but He moves through ordinary means like an ordinary conversation or through a set of circumstances. His usual method is through the Preaching of the Gospel. I think you get the point. The 1689 Confession puts it this way:
‘Those whom God has predestinated to life, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time to effectually call by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death which they are in by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ. He enlightens their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God. He takes away their heart of stone and gives to them a heart of flesh. He renews their wills, and by His almighty power, causes them to desire and pursue that which is good. He effectually draws them to Jesus Christ, yet in such a way that they come absolutely freely, being made willing by His grace.’ (Effectual Calling 10.1. Source.)
Yes we use means, but not any old means. They must be in accordance with the Scriptures. And these means are used by God to bring His people to Christ. The proper use of means will be governed or regulated by whether we think the Gospel is enough or not.
7. A Certain Sound
We need to give a certain sound. Come ye sinners, poor and wretched, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus has a people. We do not know who they are, but we implore all to come. The message to all as Jesus Himself preached is to repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:16).
Himself He could not save,
Yet now a Saviour He:
Come, sinner, to Him come,
He waits to welcome Thee.
Believe in Him, and thou shalt prove
His saving power, His deathless love.
(Albert Midlane, 1825 – 1909. In Christian Hymns)
8. Do you see it?
I have already touched upon this but it’s worth repeating. The final piece in the jigsaw, if I can put it that way, was the realisation that when Jesus was upon the Cross even at His moment of dereliction He had ME, even ME on His mind and heart. Some think that to be arrogance. But it’s what The Scriptures teach. It isn’t arrogance, it’s a humbling of yourself before God, it’s trust and faith to rejoice in what God has done in Christ for this rebel sinner. God does not need anything from me. All I bring is my sin. That includes what I might think are good works – our righteousness is as filthy rags in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). To bring anything or think we can bring anything, that is true arrogance and means you have a very inadequate view of God. But God is merciful and has sent a Saviour, even Jesus Christ the Righteous.
Great God of wonders! All Thy ways
Are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace’
More godlike and unrivaled shine,
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
(Samuel Davies, 1723 – 61)
James White, The Potters Freedom (just got to Ch4.) This is a must read.
John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied.
John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Volume 10 of Owens Works.
Grace Publications, Primer on The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
J. I. Packer, Introductory Essay to The Death of Death..
J. I Packer, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God.
Limited Atonement – Sermon by Stuart Olyott (Not the one I originally heard but very similar)
Read Full Post »