Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 31, July 27 to August 2 2008

The Extent of the Atonement

Chapter 1

By Charles W. Bronson

Charles Wesley Bronson was born and reared in the tiny village of Muncie, Kansas during the worst part of the depression. This was in the dust bowl and the parched, cracked ground cried for rain from above. These were days when men preached righteousness from God's Holy Word. The author's father was an old time Baptist preacher and his sermons left an indelible impression on the author who was hardly more than a baby. He seems to have caught some of the charisma that rested on his father for he too, when he came of age. felt impelled to preach the gospel of Gods' grace. He has had wide and varied experiences in the ministry and has held various pastorates including some 7 years as a missionary to Korea. While there he learned to love the Korean people while in the service of his country there during the Korean War. His only desire has been to preach Christ crucified, saying "He must increase, but I must decrease." He feels perhaps the message most needed today is the fact that the return of Jesus Christ is imminent. The author is available for evangelistic service wherever the Lord may lead and wants to share his message with the Lord's people everywhere.


"Full atonement—can it be?" A question, I imagine, that is as old as Christianity that Christ died for sins is generally accepted. The question is, whose sins? Not His, for He was as a Lamb without spot or blemish.

Bro. C.W. (Chuck) Bronson has authored a most interesting and enlightening book on the central and perhaps the most important doctrine in the Bible, the atonement. As a young Christian I pondered this question: If Christ's death is for my salvation and Christ died for all men, then why are all men not saved?

A clear understanding of the atonement is necessary to understand the great and deep teachings of the Holy Scriptures. May God grant each reader the grace to search the Scriptures and prove all things. An open mind and an open Bible will, I believe, reveal that what Bro. Bronson has set forth herein is the true teaching of God's word. My thanks to Bro. Bronson for this timely message. — R.R. McTaggart


This work was undertaken while home on furlough from Korea and is the result of long hours of study and research on the subject of the atonement. While perhaps something more definitive on the subject is yet required I would hope that it might provoke people to think more about the subject "For whom did Jesus die?" It is to be expected that some will take exception to some statements and some of my personal opinions on the subject. This will be no doubt due, in part, to the controversial nature of the subject. However, I have no de-sire for controversy with any person but only a desire for the promulgation of truth. It is my earnest belief that the ancient Puritans came perhaps closer to the truth on the subject of the atonement than any of our more modern theologians have done. I believe God would have us return to the old landmarks of the past, saying "this is the way, walk ye in it." Above all, may all who read this book be made to catch something of that great love of Jesus Christ, our Great Shepherd, who loved us so that He gave himself over to the hands of His enemies and was obedient even unto death, the cruel death of the cross.


The problem of the extent of the atonement may be summed up in the question "for whom did Christ die?" This is a question over which many theological battles have been fought in times past, although it does not seem to be a question which concerns modern theologians particularly:
A question over which the theologians have sorely vexed themselves and each other concerns the extent of the atonement, whether it is available for all men or only for certain particular, elect ones. 1

The above writer has basically stated the problem of the extent of the atonement, but he seems to imply in the words "certain particular, elect ones" that he understands the view of the limited atonement to include only a relatively small number of persons. If this is his meaning then it is erroneous, for the Bible speaks of an innumerable company of the elect. For instance, see such Scripture references as Rev. 7:9, Gen. 22:17, Gen. 15:5. It is common for opponents of the limited atonement to erroneously assume that by the term "limited atonement" is meant a limited number of a select few who will be saved. By limited, it is not meant to indicate that a select few will be saved, but rather that the extent of the atonement is limited to God's elect, the number being known only by God alone. In all actuality, when it is considered that many of the human race die in infancy, it is to be hoped that the number of the saved may actually be greater than the number of the wicked in hell.

C.H. Spurgeon, in his sermon on "Plenteous Redemption," says concerning the number of the redeemed:

It is plenteous, when we consider the millions that have been redeemed. Think, if ye can, how great that host who have already "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," and then think how many now with weary feet are plodding their way to Paradise, all of them redeemed. They all shall sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Is it not plenteous redemption, when you reflect that it is a "multitude that no man can number" that will be gathered in? 2
The question of the extent of the atonement is most assuredly an important one and just as relevant for our generation, at least, as in former generations. Yet, we are told that we need no longer concern ourselves with the question in these "enlightened" times:
That controversy may now be passed by. It is no longer possible to read the Bible and suppose that God relates himself sympathetically with only a part of the race. All segregated passages of Scripture formerly employed in support of such a view have now taken their place in the progressive self-interpretation of God to men through Christ who is the propitiation of the whole world. 3
In reply to this, we may say that God does not change and that truth is absolute. The same doctrines of God's Word that were relevant to past generations of believers are as true today as in times past and the question of the extent of the atonement is certainly valid today, especially in view of the fact that the atonement is so misunderstood in some circles.

As concerning the object of Christ's atonement, it is maintained by Arminian theology that He died for all men without exception. Again, C.H. Spurgeon says:

The Arminian holds that Christ, when He died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person; and they teach that Christ's death does not secure, beyond doubt, the salvation of any one man living. They believe that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible, or that by the doing of something else, any man who pleases may attain unto eternal life; consequently, they are obliged to hold that if man's will would not give way and voluntarily surrender to grace, then Christ's atonement would be unavailing. They hold that there was no particularity and speciality in the death of Christ. Christ died, according to them, as much for Judas in Hell as for Peter who mounted to Heaven. They believe that for those who are consigned to eternal fire, there was as true and real a redemption made as for those who now stand before the throne of the most High. 4
If there were no object in the death of Christ, it would seem that His death would be pointless. For the sake of logic, it must be that Christ had some ultimate purpose in His death, some plan, some Divine blueprint which He intended to carry out. To assume otherwise is to make God the author of confusion. If Christ had no object in His death, then the salvation of none is certain and even God cannot know whether His plan of salvation shall succeed.

But it is objected that if Christ died not for all men, one cannot consistently preach the gospel of God's love and Christ's death, that it would be dishonest to affirm the universal offer of salvation and hold to the limited view.

Unless Christ died for all men, the message of God's love and Christ's death must be given with tongue in cheek and with some reservation, because some may hear who are really not to be numbered among those whom God loved and for whom Christ died. 5

This objection is by no means a new thought, for it is a common objection made by those who do not believe in the particular atonement. The heart of this argument seems to be that belief in the limited atonement will dampen evangelistic zeal. However, it should be quite the opposite. If we really believe that God has an elect people, and that the death of Christ secures their salvation, this belief, in a well-balanced mind, should increase one's confidence and zeal. It is for the purpose of recovering that which was lost that we preach. It is for the purpose of seeking out the lost sheep for whom Christ died that we proclaim the message of salvation. There is no inconsistency here.

In the case of many, including the noble Waldenses and Albigenses, as well as Spurgeon and many others of great note, overflowing evangelistic zeal and a stout belief in a limited atonement have dwelt side by side in the most glorious harmony. In fact, belief in a limited atonement should make men more evangelistic than belief in a general atonement, while keeping them back from hurtful excesses. 6 Various theories have been propounded as concerning the atonement. The main ones are: 7

  • 1. The Socinian Theory (the example view)
  • 2. The Bushnellian Theory (the moral-influence theory)
  • 3. The Grotian Theory (the governmental theory)
  • 4. The Irvingian Theory (the gradually extirpated theory)
  • 5. The Anselmic Theory (the commercial theory)
  • 6. The Ethical Theory (advocated by A.H. Strong)
The Socinian theory is an outgrowth of Pelagianism and denies the need of a propitiation for man. Since man is capable of reforming himself, Christ's death serves, not as a propitiation for sin, but as an inspiring example for man to imitate.

The Bushnellian theory likewise teaches that sin is no barrier to salvation. Christ's death was an exhibition of love to lead man to repentance. It was intended to influence man to cause him to turn to God.

The Grotian theory teaches that God wished to show sinners that He does not encourage sin. Man needs no sin-bearer in order to come to God. But Christ's death shows God's hatred for sin.

The Irvingian theory teaches that Christ took on depraved human nature and by His divine nature gradually extirpated the corruption within. By faith, men become partakers of Christ's new humanity. 8

The Anselmic theory teaches that the death of Christ is a reparation paid to God for the sins of mankind. Christ's death constitutes a superabundant satisfaction for human sin. 9

The Ethical theory teaches that sin must be punished and that Christ's atonement answers the ethical demand of the divine nature. Christ has a relation to humanity by virtue of His two-fold nature and shared in the responsibility and guilt of Adam's sin. [For ethical theory see: A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology, pp. 751-752].

Concerning each of these theories mentioned, it may be said that each contains an element of truth and at least two, the Anselmic theory and the Ethical theory, are not too far from the truth. For example, the Socinian theory teaches that the death of Christ is exemplary and that man should imitate this. This is certainly true, and none would deny this it is to be supposed.

However, there is much error in most of these theories, for the Socinian theory denies the need of an atonement and in essence denies the innate depravity of man by affirming that he can reform himself. Likewise, the Bushnellian and Grotian theories minimize sin and emphasize that man can turn to God whenever he will, apart from any mediator or atonement for sin. The Irvingian theory is nothing short of blasphemous, for it teaches that Jesus took on himself depraved human nature, whereas the Bible affirms that He was without sin, "a lamb without spot or blemish."

The Anselmic theory has been criticized on the ground that it "commercializes" the atonement. Perhaps it can be said that it is closer to the truth than the other theories. The ethical theory seems to come short in that it seems to make Christ responsible for Adam's sin by virtue of His humanity and for that reason, and to that extent, it seems to be in error. Christ assumed the responsibility of the sins of His people on the cross, but this was of choice, not of necessity.

Simmons, in considering the extent of the atonement, gives three main theories:

  • 1. The theory of a partial general atonement.
  • 2. The theory of a general atonement.
  • 3. The theory of a limited atonement.
The partial general theory teaches that Christ paid the penalty for the Adamic sin for the whole race. This is based on John 1:29, "Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world."

The general atonement teaches that Christ died for every person who ever lived or who will ever live. Simmons includes in this category those who teach the sufficiency-efficiency theory. 10

In the following pages the limited atonement theory shall be considered as the correct view. Briefly defined, by limited atonement is meant that Christ died for the elect only, with the object of securing their eternal salvation.

This is summed up in the following statement:

The atonement means that perfect satisfaction given to the law and justice of God by the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, on behalf of elect sinners of mankind, on account of which they are delivered from condemnation. 11
The word "satisfaction" explains, perhaps, more nearly than the word atonement what Christ has accomplished for the sinner on the cross. He satisfied the holiness of God, the justice of God, the claims of the law through His sufferings and death on the cross. As pertaining to this, A.H. Strong says:
The fundamental attribute of God is holiness, and holiness is not self-communicating love, but self-affirming righteousness. Holiness limits and conditions love, for love can will happiness only as happiness results from or consists with righteousness, that is, with conformity to God.
He further says that "happiness is connected with righteousness, unhappiness or suffering is attached to sin. Christ condemns sin by visiting upon it the penalty of suffering. He endures the reaction of God's holiness against sin which constitutes that penalty." 12 To restate this, Man is guilty of sin, of disobedience to the law and having offended against the most High, a penalty is inflicted upon him, the penalty of death. Christ, at the same time our Judge and our Substitute, submits Himself to the penalty in our stead, thereby satisfying the just requirement of the law. 13

Mankind have offended against the law and justice of God. The fact of man's sin cannot be denied. And that sin is an offence against the almighty moral Governor . . . cannot be questioned. That God, being offended, requires to be satisfied is also supposed. It is farther supposed, in our definition of the doctrine that the requisite satisfaction is given by a substitute, not by the offenders themselves. 14

It should further be noted that this satisfaction is penal in nature; the "amount of suffering must be proportionate to the offence." 15

That can only be properly called a satisfaction which is suited to the majesty of God and is equivalent to the sin of man. 16

In other words, the atonement of Christ really atones, it is a satisfaction for the sins of the believer in every sense of the word. Could every believer fully realize this and apprehend it, he would be able to realize that God has completely and forever obliterated and covered his sins. And could he but realize what it has cost Christ to reconcile him to God, sin would appear to be so heinous in his eyes that he would not wish to have any part in the thing that sent his Saviour to the cross.

Symington gives us several words which are used in the Scriptures to describe the various facets of the atonement. They are as follows: 17

  • 1. Atonement
  • 2. Reconciliation
  • 3. Redemption
  • 4. Propitiation
He also gives us the following theological terms which are not used in Scripture:
  • 1. Satisfaction
  • 2. Substitution
  • 3. Expiation
The word atonement is used only once in the authorized version of the New Testament: "We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ by whom we have now received the atonement." (Rom. 5:11) Here the word "katallage" is used but in this case it has the meaning of atonement, rather than reconciliation. The Greek verb katallasso carries with it the meaning to "lay down something" as a payment. Aristotle says that the word means "to exchange equivalent values." 18

The Hebrew equivalent of katallage is kaphar. This is usually translated as atonement in the KJV and is used 78 times in the Old Testament. 19 The word "kaphar" means to cover or to draw over and has the theological meaning of expiation. This word is used in connection with the mercy seat, which was the cover or lid of the ark in the tabernacle. 20

The word reconciliation is used to translate the word katallage in two passages in the New Testament. It is connected with atonement, for, before reconciliation can be effected, an atonement must be made.

Redemption means to set free and is used to translate the Greek word "apolutrosis." In order to redeem, a ransom, (lutron) must be paid. Under Hebrew law, a slave could be set free at the end of 6 years of servitude by paying a ransom. 21 Jesus said that He would give His life as a ransom for many. (Mk. 10:45) For the uses of the words "apolutrosis" and "lutrosin" see Lk. 21:28 and Heb. 9:12.

The word propitiation means to turn away anger by appeasement, supposing, of course, that the other party has been offended. It is a translation of the Greek words "hilasterion" and "hilasmos." Hilasterion means mercy seat. It can also mean atoning victim. 22

The words satisfaction, substitution and expiation, as has been noted, are not used in Scripture, but are theological terms used to denote different aspects of the atonement. Satisfaction has been discussed. The terms substitution and expiation are used to denote Christ's taking the place of the sinner and annulling his guilt by His gracious interposition. 23

Robert P. Lightner sets forth ten problems of the limited atonement. These ten are, briefly, as follows: 24

  • 1. The universal passages
  • 2. Natural benefits from the cross
  • 3. The love of God
  • 4. The universal offer of the gospel
  • 5. The covenant of grace
  • 6. Christ's active and passive obedience
  • 7. The necessity of faith for salvation
  • 8. The convicting work of the Holy Spirit
  • 9. Adam and Christ
  • 10 The resurrection of the wicked dead
While some of these objections may be worthy of consideration, the aforementioned writer seems to find difficulties where there are none. As an example, he puts forth the puerile argument that the resurrection of the wicked dead necessitates a general atonement. He says:
It must be admitted that even the non-elect were included in the Savior's death since it is on the basis of His death that they shall one day be resurrected to live a conscious existence forever. But in the limited atonement concept, the non-elect are not included in Christ's death. If they are not, then how is it that the source of power for their future resurrection is to be found in Christ's defeat of death by His own death and resurrection? There is no other alternative; the basis of the future resurrection and judgment of all unsaved men finds its source squarely in the death and resurrection of Christ. 25
The argument is foolish. Christ's atonement is meant to atone, to redeem, to reconcile. Here we have an atonement that does not atone, a redemption that does not redeem, a reconciliation that does not reconcile. Christ must suffer for the wicked that they might be raised so that they may suffer throughout all eternity. Further, he speaks of the resurrection of the wicked as though it were a resurrection to life, when in all reality it is a resurrection unto eternal death and is no life at all but a dreary, endless, futile existence in eternal blackness and despair. The central error is that this kind of reasoning makes it all entirely dependent upon the will of man. If man does not so will, according to this kind of thinking, the Saviour's atonement shall have no result of any kind whatsoever and God has no assurance whether His plan of salvation shall succeed or not; perhaps the Saviour's death shall be in vain. 26

However, the Bible assures us that God has an eternal purpose and that purpose must be accomplished. "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" (Isa. 53:11).


1. William Owen Carver. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p.324.

2. C.H. Spurgeon, Sermons On Sovereignty, pp. 103, 104.

3. Carver. Ibid.

4. Spurgeon, Op. Cit., p.82.

5. Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ Died, p. 15.

6. T.P. Simmons, A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine, pp. 258-259.

7. A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology, pp. 728-766.

8. Simmons, op. cit., pp. 243-244.

9. Vergilius Ferm, An Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 689.

10. Simmons. op. cit.. p.252-259.

11. Williams Symington, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ, p.7.

12. A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 985.

13. Strong, Ibid.

14. Symington, op. cit.. p.7.8.

15. Wm. G. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, p. 423.

16. Stephen Charnock, Christ Our Passover, p. 119.

17. Symington, op. cit., p. 11-14.

18. John Talmadge Bergen, Atonement and The Atonement, pp. 108.

19. Ibid.

20. Symington, loc. cit.

21. Bergen. op. cit.. p.16.

22. James Strong. Dictionary of the Greek Testament (The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible), p.37.

23. Symington, loc. cit.

24. Robert P. Lightner, op. cit., pp.107-148

25. Lightner, op. cit., p.145.

26. Ralph Wardlaw, Systematic Theology. vol. II, p.431.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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