Limited or Unlimited Atonement, Particular or Universal Redemption

Dear hijas,

Atonement: reparation made for a wrong or injury.

5 Points Calvinism TULIP

The Synod of Dort in their rejection of the 5 points of Arminianism taught that salvation, from beginning to end, was a work of God’s grace alone. Their answer in the L of TULIP was Limited Atonement. What does that mean?

For starters, why was reparation needed for a wrong committed? Answer: the Fall of Adam into sin and rebellion and our inheritance of that sin nature. “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) “Each of us has turned aside; together we have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:3). “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned–” (Rom. 5:12).

Who needs to do the repairing, the atoning? Answer: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen. 3:15). “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Is. 53:5). “…and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

So the question the Synod of Dort had to deal with here was whether this atonement of Jesus was universal and general as the Arminian Remonstrants posited, or whether it was particular and limited. Their answer, from Scripture, following Calvin, was limited and particular. How does this play out?

The question before us now is “What did Jesus accomplish on the cross?” “For whose sins did He atone?” Calvin believed, from Scripture, that it was limited to the elect. Christ’s death on the cross was for certain specified sinners. His purchase, or redemption (a buying back) was for those who were, are, and would be ‘born from above’, ‘chosen in Him before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1:4). Calvin believed that Christ’s death was substitutionary and propitiatory for those whom God gave Him to save (John 17:9), and that Christ’s work on the cross secured everything necessary for their salvation, including the faith that would be given as a gift (Eph. 2:8). In essence, Christ died to atone for specific sins of specific sinners.

The Arminian Remonstrants believed just the opposite. They believed that Christ, as Savior of the world,  died for all men and for every man, but that it was not designed to purchase a specific people for Himself, nor to secure salvation for any particular sinner, only to make salvation “possible” for any person who would of his or her own free will repent and believe. It’s a view that denies that Christ paid a ‘penalty’ for us, but that He only ‘suffered’ for us. It’s universal and general in its scope. In this view, Christ’s work on the cross, His atonement, only becomes effective if man chooses to accept it.

The Synod of Dort in addressing this point of the Arminian Remonstrance, (that Jesus’ death was only a potential, symbolic atonement for anyone who might possibly, in the future accept Him) believed that it trivialized Christ’s work on the cross and was Scripturally incorrect. Their answer was Limited Atonement, and because it is Scriptural, should be ours as well.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand (John 10:27, 28).

With love, I remain,

Dear ol’ Dad

Vaya con Dios mis hijas

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