Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 33, August 10 to August 16 2008

The Extent of the Atonement

Chapter 3

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.


Does God have an eternal purpose which He intends to fulfill? To whom does this extend? Does it extend to all men in all ages without exception, or does it pertain only to His elect? Who are His covenant people? These are questions which arise in considering the extent of intention of God's covenant purpose.

Robert P. Lightner, who espouses the unlimited atonement view, goes so far as to infer that the covenant of grace is extra-Scriptural. He says:

The question is, "How Scriptural is this covenant-of-grace idea?" It must be admitted immediately that none of the covenants of the covenant system are stated as such in Scripture. White this in itself does not make them antibiblical, it ought to make one cautious about developing an entire system of theology upon them as covenant theology does. If the idea that God made a covenant before the foundations of the world promising to send His Son to die for the elect only is not clearly taught in Scripture, then it is altogether possible that its necessary concomitant — limited atonement — is not taught there either. 1

The above quoted writer is inconsistent in that he seemingly holds to the doctrine of election and yet denies the limited atonement. In order for one to be consistent, he must hold all five points of Calvinism. Spurgeon says:

Some by putting the strain upon their judgments may manage to hold two or three points and not the rest, but sound logic I take it requires a man to hold the whole or reject the whole; the doctrines stand like soldiers in a square, presenting on every side a line of defense which is hazardous to attack, but easy to maintain. 2

God does most assuredly have an eternal purpose with respect to the people of God. In Eph. 1:9-10 we read, "having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in Heaven, and which are on earth; even in him." Comparing this with Jhn. 11:52, we read that Caiaphas "being high priest that year, prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." Herein we have God's covenant purpose: to gather together in one all of God's elect. This is accomplished through the atonement of Christ.

The term "covenant" is a Scriptural term, for we find in Hebrews 12:24 that Jesus is "the mediator of the new covenant." This word is also translated as testament in at least 16 places in the New Testament. The term "new testament" is used at least six places in the Authorized Version of the New Testament. It is sometimes called a better covenant in the book of Hebrews. In this particular sense, it is used to contrast it with the old covenant, which was under the law. The word testament or covenant carries with it the meaning of a contract or a will.

The first covenant was dedicated by blood. (Heb. 9:18-22) The blood of this covenant was that of calves and goats. The new covenant was ratified by the blood of Jesus Christ: "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Mt. 26:28)

The new covenant is based upon promises. (Heb. 8:6) He promises His people, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 8:12) We find in Galatians 3:16 that these promises, upon which the new covenant is based, were made to Abraham and his seed. This has reference to Christ and His people: "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:29)

This covenant was actually made in eternity. (Eph. 1:4. Isa. 42:6) The conditions were that Christ should die for the elect and accomplish the work which God had sent Him to do. (Jhn. 17:4, Ps. 40:7, 8, Heb. 10:9) Hodge says:

Christ died in execution of the terms of an eternal Covenant of Redemption formed between the Father and Son. The conditions assumed by Christ on his part were that he should, in living and dying, by action and suffering, fulfill all the legal obligations of his people. The conditions promised by the Father were that Christ should "see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied." 3

The people to whom this covenant belong are referred to in Scripture as the "elect," his "sheep," his "church," the "children of God," "heirs," "sons," his "flock" and other such terms. In most emphatic terms we are told that "the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." (Jhn. 10:11) To His enemies, Jesus said, "Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (Jhn. 10:26-29)

In the above quoted verses, we find that some were not of Christ's sheep. It is for the sheep that the Shepherd dies. It is the sheep that were given unto Christ by the father. It is the sheep that He keeps, and to them He gives eternal life. It is for the sheep that the blood of the eternal covenant was shed:

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will. (Heb. 13:20-21)

In the 17th chapter of John, we read "Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent." (Jhn. 17:2-3) It is clear to be seen, from a study of the Scriptures given, that God gave to Christ a people, His sheep, and that Christ contracted to come and make atonement for them and give to them eternal life. They cannot perish nor apostatize. They follow Christ, they know Him and they believe on Him. He shed His blood for them and made vicarious atonement for them. He keeps them in the name of the Father and none of them are lost. (Jhn. 17:12) It is abundantly clear from Scripture that God has a covenant people and that God's eternal purpose was to save them. His purpose cannot fail, for He is God. The people who are included in the Covenant of Redemption are, as has been previously indicated, a vast multitude. They are in multitude as the stars of heaven or the sands of the sea. In this number we include all of the redeemed of all ages and of all nations. Included in this number are multitudes of those who died in infancy. In past ages, whatever the percentage may now be, nearly one-half of the human race died in childhood.

When it is considered that nearly one-half of the human race die in early years, it is easy to see what a vast accession must be daily and hourly making to the blessed population of heaven. 4

Included in this covenant are the saved of what we may call Old Testament times, that is, from the time of Adam until the time of Christ. For these Christ's atonement had a "retrospective efficacy." Also included are the saved from the time of Christ on down until the time when the last one of His elect shall be saved. 5

How many unnumbered millions of God's covenant people there must be! In Isaiah we read, "For the transgression of my people was he stricken. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 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. 53:8-11)

In these verses we are told plainly the extent of the intention of God's covenant purpose, the nature of the atonement, the people for whom it was made, the. infallibility of his purpose and the reason the atonement was made, i.e., the transgressions and iniquities of God's people. We also see Christ's triumph and resurrection.

By way of summary, we may say that the Scriptures teach that there is a Covenant of Grace, or redemption, that this was made in eternity by the Father and the Son, that promises were made to the covenant people, that Christ came to carry out that purpose and make atonement for His people, that the covenant pertains to His sheep, or elect, and none other, and that God's infallible purpose cannot fail. In this covenant, God's people are being gathered into one: "There shall be one fold and one shepherd." (Jhn. 10:16) Day by day, God is saving His people, seeking out His sheep, adding to the church and carrying them home to glory. In this we can see something of His covenant purpose in Christ.

It must be reiterated that the covenant of grace does not include all mankind, but only God's covenant people. The extension of the atonement, as to its objects, is no wider than its intention in the covenant of grace. As concerning this fact, Symington affirms that:

The blood of Christ was not shed by accident, it was not poured out at random or on a venture. No: he laid down his life by covenant. The terms of the covenant must therefore define the designed extent of the objects of his death. If all mankind are included in the covenant,-if the Surety of the covenant, as is admitted, are only a given specified number of the human family, then must the atonement of the Mediator be restricted to them. There seems no evading this inference. To give the designed objects of the Saviour's atonement a greater extension than the covenant of grace is to nullify its character as the stipulated condition of the covenant, and to render nugatory and unavailing the consolatory address by which the heart of many an awkward sinner has been soothed, 'Behold the blood of the covenant.' 6

To suppose that God intended to save all men is contradictory, for if this were His intention, and since all men are not saved, it follows that He was unable to carry out His purpose. "Since the work of God is always efficient, those for whom atonement was made and those who are actually saved must be the same people." 7


1. Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ Died, pp. 121-123.

2. C.H. Spurgeon, Sermons on Sovereignty, pp. 23, 24.

3. A.A. Hodge, The Atonement, p. 406.

4. Spurgeon, op. cit., p. 18.

5. George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Atonement as Taught By Christ Himself.

6. William, Symington. On The Atonement And Intercession of Jesus Christ, pp. 257-258.

7. Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p.155.

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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