Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 34, August 17 to August 23 2008

The Extent of the Atonement

Chapter 4

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.

I. Christ as High Priest

As Mediator of the new covenant, and as the antitype of the high priest under the Mosaic dispensation, the ministry of Christ has two aspects. As our suffering Substitute, He made atonement for the sins of all the elect while on earth. As High Priest, He is engaged in the ministry of intercession on behalf of His people. We read in Romans 8:32-34:
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
In Romans 4:25 we find that Christ "was delivered for our offenses, and was raised for our justification." We find, in considering the above verses, that they concern the elect. The elect cannot be condemned, no charge or accusation can be brought against them before God. This state of blessedness is due to the fact that Christ died for them and rose again from the dead on their behalf. Further, He is at the right hand of God making intercession for them. Christopher Ness says:
The benefits of Christ's death and resurrection are of equal extent in their objects; but the benefit of Christ's resurrection is not extended to all alike. 1
In the prayer of Christ, recorded in the 17th chapter of John, we find that Christ makes intercession for His elect. He does not make intercession for any other. Not only does He make intercession for present believers, but also for those who shall believe through their testimony. In John 17:9, 20 we read:

I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me; for they are thine.

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe through their word.

Again, Ness says:

The benefit of Christ's death and intercession are of equal extent in their objects; but Christ intercedeth not for all. Christ's intercession is "not for the world" at large, but only for those whom His Father hath given Him; and reason confirms this, for if Christ interceded for Judas, Pilate, etc., then had He a repulse, and was not always heard of the Father, contrary to John 11:42. 2
The priestly function of Christ in Heaven is to apply the benefits of the atonement to those for whom it was made on earth. 3 It may be seen by studying the duties of the high priest under Levitical law that the function of the high priest, was to kill the sacrificial victim, which was for the people, and bring its blood within the veil (within the tabernacle) and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. (See Lev. 16:11, 15) First, atonement must be made; then the blood must be applied.

The antitype of this is Christ Himself. 4 First, He made atonement for His people; then He entered Heaven itself to appear on their behalf.

By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us . . . For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the time; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. (Heb. 9:12, 24) When He ascended, He entered Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father. By His intercessory work He applies the benefits of the atonement. He does this on behalf of the elect.

For this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they who are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Heb. 9:15)

Those for whom He made atonement on earth are the ones for whom He makes intercession in Heaven:

Again, Christ is a High Priest, and the two parts of His priestly office, oblation and presentation, cannot be separated: and they which have a part in the former have part in the latter also. For the presentation doth necessarily imply the oblation, and gives a perpetual force thereto in the sight of God. (Heb. 9:12) Christ must intercede on the behalf of those whom He hath reconciled to God by His death; and His intercession is a personal presenting of Himself to His Father on behalf of those whom He personated on the cross. We cannot say that there be some for whom Christ offered Himself upon the earth but doth not intercede for in heaven; this would make Christ but a half-priest to some, and therefore not a faithful High Priest, contrary to sundry Scriptures. 5
As High Priest, Jesus Christ is the Advocate of believers. An advocate, of course, is one who pleads the cause of another. It is a legal term. This implies that those for whom he pleads have sinned. It is not for unbelievers, but for sinning saints that Christ is Advocate:
Advocacy is that work of Jesus Christ for sinning believers which He carries on with the Father whereby, because of the eternal efficacy of Christ's sacrifice, He restores them to fellowship. 6
We read in I John 2:1, "My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." It is on the basis of His righteousness, His sinless life on earth and the righteousness which He imputes to His people (believers) as a result of His atonement, that He can represent them. Symington says, "The father is the representative of the godhead, and the Son the representative of those who are to be redeemed. He is on this account called the Mediator and Surety of the covenant." 7

As concerning the connection of the atonement of Christ with his resurrection and intercession Symington again says that:

The death and resurrection of the Saviour bear a close relation to each other. In whatever character he died, in the same character he rose from the dead. If he laid down his life as Head of the church, and Surety of his people, and Mediator of the covenant, in the same capacities did he take it up again. The persons interested in the one event and in the other are the same . .. He died for none for whose sake he did not rise. 8
John Owen lists three divisions of the work of Christ in redemption, the incarnation of Christ, His oblation (in offering Himself up to God for us), and His intercession for those from whom He made atonement. He says:
His intercession (is) for all and every one of those for whom he gave himself for an oblation. He did not suffer for them, and then refuse to intercede for them; he did not do the greater, and omit the less. 9
But Mullins says that "the atonement of Christ was for all men. His relation to mankind . . . involves the consequence that he died for all." 10 But he admits that "all men do not share equally in the benefits of the atonement of Christ. Those who remain in unbelief are not saved." 11

It is strange that Christ should die for all men and yet not be able to apply the benefits of His redemptive work to them. This, again, makes the application of the atonement dependent upon the creature's will. However, that which Christ purchased had to be applied to those for whom it was purchased. Nothing is contingent upon the creature. 12

II. The Office of The Holy Spirit

In purchasing for the elect eternal redemption, Christ also secured for them the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit applies the virtues of the atonement to the elect. "He communicates life, light, love, faith, repentance and perseverance in obedience." 13 It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that the elect are brought to saving faith and repentance. Christ promised to communicate His spirit to believers. (Acts 1:8)

A careful study of various Scriptures having to do with the work of the Holy Spirit cannot fail to be rewarding. All of the spiritual blessings and benefits possessed by believers are communicated by the Holy Spirit.

He is the Author of the new birth. (Jno. 3:5) He quickens or gives life to believers. (Jno. 6:33, Eph. 2:5) He indwells the believer and makes his body His habitation. (Rom. 8:9, I Cor. 3:17) He seals the believer and is the earnest of his inheritance. (Eph. 2:13-14, II Cor. 1:22) He leads believers and gives them the assurance of salvation. (Rom. 8:14, 16) He communicates to them His blessings and makes their lives to be fruitful. (Gal. 5:22-23) He gives them access to the Father and makes intercession for them. (Eph. 2:18, Jno. 14:26, Rom. 8:26) He enables them to pray and gives to them spiritual gifts. (Jude 20, Heb. 2:4) It is the Holy Spirit who shall raise their bodies in the resurrection. (Rom. 8:11) The Holy Spirit is not received by human effort. (Gal. 3:2)

Calvin says, "The Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ efficaciously unites us to Himself." 14 In Ephesians 1:3 we find that God has blessed the elect with all manner of spiritual blessings in Christ. These are not communicated to the non-elect, but to those who were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. (Eph. 1:4) It is the Holy Spirit who communicates to the believer these benefits which were purchased for him by Christ's atonement. Jesus says:

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (Jno. 10:10-11)
The Holy Spirit directs the work of reaching sinners with the gospel. He empowers His workers, directs them, forbids them from going to certain localities and gives power to the preaching of the gospel. (Acts 1:8, 8:29, 16:7, Rom. 1:16) The present ministry and mission of the Holy Spirit is inseparable from the atonement. 14 He uses His workers to gather the elect. (John 11:52, II Tim. 2:10) He enables the elect to believe on Christ and regenerates them. (Mt. 16:17,Titus 3:5-6)

Hodge says that Christ designed to accomplish by His death the salvation of His own people, those who were given unto Him by the Father.

To secure that end he designed to purchase for them, and then efficaciously to communicate to them, faith and repentance and all the fruits of the Spirit. 15
Arminian theology, however, teaches that man must "cooperate" with the Spirit and that the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit depends for its efficacy on the will of man. 16

Man, it is taught, is free and responsible. Although sinful, he knows that sin is foreign to his original nature. "To such the Spirit gives His influence, whether used or not, to help man to decide against sin and submit to God. The Spirit strives but man must receive." 17

This kind of teaching is based on a false conception of original sin. The Bible represents man as depraved, dead in trespasses and sins and utterly unable to perceive spiritual things. (Eph. 2:5, I Cor. 2:14)

The Holy Spirit must communicate faith to the sinner, illuminate him and regenerate him. 18 These are gifts of the Spirit:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:17-18)

The actual application of the benefits of the atonement by the Holy Spirit is limited in its extent to the elect. If application were made to all men without exception, then it must follow that all men would be saved. However, the Bible teaches us that the elect obtain salvation and the rest of humanity are blessed by Satan. (Rom. 11:7, II Cor. 4:3,4)

This does not, in any wise, lessen the responsibility of God's people to witness, preach the gospel, evangelize and carry on missionary work. Nor does it relieve the wicked of responsibility in rejecting the message. It does, however, provide encouragement to know that God does not change and that He is able to put into effect that which He has purposed.

The Christian is to maintain a spirit of compassion for the lost, to pray for their salvation and make every effort to reach them with the gospel. It is perfectly consistent to mourn for those who reject Christ, all the while knowing that God's purpose cannot fail. What if some do not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God ineffectual? (Rom. 3:3) God's eternal purpose shall stand.


1. Christopher Ness, An Antidote Against Arminianism, p.54.

2. Ibid, p.55.

3. Arthur W. Pink, The Satisfaction of Christ, p.133.

4. Pink, Ibid., p.135.

5. Ibid, p.387.

6. C.I. Scofield, The New Scofield Reference Bible, p.1,343 (1).

7. William Symington, On The Atonement And Intercession Of Jesus Christ, p.257.

8. Ibid, p.260.

9. John Owen, The Works Of, vol. X, pp.174-176.

10. E.Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion In Its Doctrinal Expression, p.336.

11. Ibid.

12. Pink, loc. cit.

13. C.H. Spurgeon, Sermons on Sovereignty, p. 89.

14. quoted by Pink op. cit. p.146.

15. Pink, op. cit., p.147.

16. A.A. Hodge, The Atonement, p.415.

17. Ernest S. Williams, Systematic Theology, p.232.

18. See Acts 16:14. Also see Acts 13:48; those ordained to eternal life believe.

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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