Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 36, August 31 to September 6 2008

The Extent of the Atonement

Chapter 6

By Charles 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.


Universal redemptionists object to the doctrine of particular redemption on several grounds. The main arguments seem to be based on Scriptures which seem to teach universal redemption, passages which seem to indicate a possibility of those perishing for whom Christ died and the indiscriminate offer of the gospel to all. 1

It is objected that those who believe in the doctrine of the limited atonement place a limitation on such words as "all," "whomsoever," and "world" when used in passages related to the atonement. 2 It is true that some expositors have sometimes distorted certain passages in order to make them fit their rigid system of doctrine. 3 However, if the general tenor of Scripture teaches limited atonement it is not necessary to defend Scripture against Scripture. Calvin, it is said, was very fair-minded in expounding the Bible. For instance, he refused to build an argument for the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the word for God (elohim) is in the plural in the Hebrew in Genesis 1:1. Likewise, in dealing with certain passages which might seem to be in disagreement with his system of doctrine, he was very fair and gave the proper sense of the passage. 4 One cannot help admiring such an attitude. Yet Lightner objects that "Calvin himself says that all equals all kinds, all classes, taking some of each, but not all in the sense of every individual." 5

One passage cited as being misused by limited redemptionists is Hebrews 2:9:

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.

The main teaching of this verse is not the extent of the atonement, but the humiliation and subsequent exhaltation of Christ. The nature of His humiliation was suffering and death. The nature of His death as set forth in this verse was substitutionary. The word "man", it must be noted, is not in the original. Literally, it reads "should taste death for every." The context shows that He tasted death in order to bring "many sons" to glory. (verse 10) Those for whom He experienced death will never experience the second death. (Rev. 20:6) If Christ died in the stead of some men, and the, after all, they should perish, this would mean that God required a double payment, first at the hand of the Surety, and then at the hand of the sinner.

If Christ's death is in reality a substitutionary, vicarious death, it saves all for whom it was exercised and no other. If Christ really died in the place of those who are saved, it follows that He died in the place only of those who are saved. Christ could not bear the sins of men without actually saving them. 6

Barnes says the words "for every man" mean "for each and all?whether Jew or Gentile, bond or free, high or low, elect or non-elect." 7 He affirms that the atonement was unlimited in its nature and design.

If the atonement was unlimited in its design, this means that God designed to save all men by the atonement; if not, it means that God gave His Son in vain for those whom He knew would never be saved. Either way, according to this view, God was unable to accomplish that which He proposed to do. Unlimited redemptionists being their preconceived system of doctrine to the Bible, find some verses that seem to be favorable to their system, and try to make them to militate against the rest of the whole teaching of Scripture. If some Calvinists have been guilty of forcing a meaning into certain passages of Scripture never intended, the Arminians are at least equally guilty.

Another verse said to be wrested by those who believe in limited atonement is Titus 2:11, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." 8 This verse can be read thusly: "The grace of God which brings salvation to all men has been revealed." 9 Barnes, a believer in the general atonement, says "it means that the plan of salvation has been revealed to all classes of men." 10 He cannot say that it is revealed to all men without exception, for it is certain that it has not been. Yet, he says that Christ died for all men without exception and that the atonement was unlimited in its design and nature. But, in his comments on John 3:18, Barnes notes that men are condemned for unbelief, whether they hear the gospel or not. 11 Owen remarks that, according to the Arminians, God makes an atonement and then mocks those for whom it was made in that He condemns them for rejecting that of which they never heard. 12

It is commonly objected by Arminians that "the Lord is not willing that any should perish." 13 Usually this verse (II Peter 3:9) is not quoted in its entirety. Actually, this verse teaches that the Lord "is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish." Even though it be applied to all men without exception, it teaches no more than God's good will to all His creatures and His long-suffering. One does not have to believe in unconditional reprobation in order to believe in particular redemption. 14

Again, it is urged that God "is the Saviour of all men." 15 (I Tim. 4:10) In what sense is He the Saviour of all men, seeing some perish? In a special sense He is the Saviour of His people (Mt. 1:21), for He "saves His people from their sins." In a limited sense He is the Saviour, or Deliverer of even the non-elect, for He preserves them and delivers them in a temporal sense as long as it shall please Him to continue to do. 16 vIt is also objected that I Timothy 2:6 teaches universal redemption: He "gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." 17 Concerning this Owens says that "the Scripture nowhere saith Christ died for all men, much less for all and every man." He goes on to say:

It is true, Christ is said to give his life a ransom for all but nowhere for all men. And because it is affirmed expressly in other places that he died for many, for his church, for them that believe, for the children that God gave him, for us, some of all sorts, though not expressly, yet clearly in terms equivalent, Rev. 5:9-10, it must be clearly proved that where all is mentioned that it cannot be taken for all believers, all his elect, his whole church, all the children that God gave him, some of all sorts, before a universal affirmative can be thence concluded. 18
The whole verse teaches that "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due (its own) time." Christ is not a Mediator for every man without exception. Owen states that:
For whom Christ died, for them he is a mediator, but he is not a mediator for all and everyone. 19


It is claimed that certain passages which speak of the possibility of those perishing for whom Christ died are not in harmony with the doctrine that Christ died only for the elect. The passages are as follows: 20
  • 1. There shall be false teachers among you, who shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. (II Pet. 2:1)
  • 2. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died. (I Cor. 8:11)
  • 3. And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died? (I Cor. 8:11)
Hodge says:
These passages are just like those constant warnings which are addressed in Scripture to the elect, which are designed as means to carry out and secure that perseverance in grace which is the end of election, and therefore are in no sense inconsistent with its certainty. 21
However, some commentaries teach that II Peter 2:1 teaches the doctrine of universal redemption. 22
Even the ungodly were bought by His 'precious blood.' It shall be their bitterest self-reproach in hell, that, as far as Christ's redemption was concerned, they might have been saved. 23
That there shall be self-reproach in Hell cannot be denied. That salvation is conditioned upon one's believing on Christ is certain and it is sure that all who believe may be saved. But it almost approaches blasphemy to say that Christ shed His precious blood for some and then, after all, they perished in Hell.

Finney, in his Lectures On Systematic Theology, says that the nature of the atonement is not a literal payment of a debt. If it were, says he, a literal payment of a debt, then all men would be saved as the universalists contend. 24 He goes on to say that the atonement of itself does not secure the salvation of any one. 25 The argument of whether the atonement includes those mentioned in II Peter 2:1 revolves, then, around the nature of the atonement. If Christ bought none by "a literal payment," then He did not buy the false teachers mentioned in the verse under consideration. If He bought them, then they must be saved regardless. Otherwise, the atonement must be different in nature than taught by the Arminians.

The Bible teaching is that the atonement is, in its nature, a ransom, a redemption, and that those for whom atonement was made will come to Christ and be saved. (Jno. 10:11, 16, 28-29, 6:3)


It is objected that since the gospel is offered to all men, it follows that the atonement was made for all men. 26 Otherwise, the offer of salvation to all would be an empty form if atonement was not made for all men without exception. 27

The fallacy in the above argument is that certain fundamental facts are either ignored or misunderstood. For one thing, all men are commanded to repent (Acts 17:30) to whom the gospel is preached and the promise is given that those who repent and believe will be saved. This promise is to "as many as the Lord, our God, shall call." (Acts 2:39) It does not follow, however, that God gives enabling grace to all that hear the gospel, for it is evident that "he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardeneth." (Rom. 9:18) To argue with God's sovereignty is to find fault with God. (Rom. 9:20)

God's people are commanded to preach the gospel indiscriminately, that is, to every creature, (Mk. 16:15) but the power to know who are elect and who are not is not given. Neither is there given any assurance that all who hear will be saved, for few of those who hear are actually saved. "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Mt. 22:14)

Somehow, God in His sovereignty has so wisely ordered the things of eternity that the same persons for whom the atonement was made, in due time, hear the gospel and respond to the call. Simmons distinguishes between an inward and an outward call. 28 The inward call, of course, is effectual and a result of the inward promptings of the Holy Spirit.


1. A.A. Hodge, The Atonement, p.418.

2. Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ Died, p.107.

3. C.H. Spurgeon, Commenting And Commentaries, p.9.

4. Ibid. p.5.

5. Lightner, op. cit., p.66.

6. Frank B. Beck, The Five Points of Calvinism, pp.32-33.

7. Albert Barnes, Barne's Notes On The New Testament, p.1238.

8. Lightner, op. cit., p.67.

9. Barnes, op., cit. p.1196.

10. Ibid.

11. Comm. in loc.

12. John Owen, The Death Of Death, p.126.

13. Lightner, loc. cit.

14. C.H. Spurgeon, Sermons On Sovereignty, p.19.

15. Lightner, loc. cit.

16. Thomas P. Simmons, A Systematic Study Of Bible Doctrine, p.270.

17. Lightner, op. cit., p.64.

18. Owen, op. cit., p.133-134.

19. Ibid, p.137.

20. Hodge, op. cit., p.427

21. Hodge, op. cit., p.428

22. Henry Alford, Alford's Greek Testament, vol.4, comm. in loc.

23. Jamieson, Fausset And Brown, Commentary On The Whole Bible, p.149.

24. Charles G. Finney, Lectures On Systematic Theology, p.281.

25. Ibid.

26. Finney op. cit., p.275.

27. Hodge, op. cit., p.418.

28. Simmons, op. cit., p.272.

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.

Subscribe to Reformed Perspectives Magazine

RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to Reformed Perspectives Magazine, please select this link.