FOR WHOM DID CHRIST DIE?
A Defense of Unlimited Atonement

 

Proponents And Defenders Of The Fact That Christ Died For All

 

In establishing any doctrine, it is what God says that counts. "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4). Having already established from the Scriptures that upon Christ were laid the iniquities of all of us, it is of interest to consider what great and godly men of the past have said about this issue of the universal extent of the atonement.

Norman F. Douty, in his excellent book The Death of Christ, lists over 70 of the Church’s leading teachers, from the early centuries to the modern era, who stood firmly for the doctrine that Christ died on behalf of all men, not the elect only (pages 136-163). Here are some of the names on the list: Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Augustine, Martin Luther, Hugh Latimer, Myles Coverdale, Thomas Cranmer, Philip Melanchton, Archbishop Ussher, Richard Baxter, John Newton, John Bunyan, Thomas Scott, Henry Alford, Philip Schaff, Alfred Edersheim, H.C.G. Moule, W.H. Griffith Thomas, and A.T. Robertson.

The following quotes are of interest:

"Although the blood of Christ be the ransom of the whole world, yet they are excluded from its benefit, who, being delighted with their captivity, are unwilling to be redeemed by it" (Prosper, who died 463 AD).

"For Christ only, and no man else, merited remission, justification, and eternal felicity, for as many as will believe the same; they that will not believe it, shall not have it, for it is no more but believe and have.  For Christ shed as much blood for Judas as He did for Peter; Peter believed it, and therefore he was saved; Judas would not believe and therefore he was condemned – the fault being in him only, and in nobody else" (Hugh Latimer, devoted bishop and martyr, 1485-1555). [Cited in James Morison, The Extent of the Atonement, p. 130.]

"Christ died for all, yet, notwithstanding, all do not embrace the benefit of His death...they despise the offered grace" (Benedict Aretius, 1505-1575).

"We may safely conclude that the Lamb of God offering himself a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, intended, by giving sufficient satisfaction to God’s justice, to make the nature of man, which he assumed, a fit subject for mercy, and to prepare a medicine for the sins of the whole world, which should be denied to none that intended to take the benefit of it" (Archbishop Usher, 1581-1656).   [Cited in James Morison, The Extent of the Atonement, p. 136.]

James Morison argues that the doctrine of a limited atonement was never taught in the early centuries of church history:

The doctrine of a propitiation for the elect alone is not yet above fourteen hundred years old. Such a doctrine was unheard of during the glorious first three centuries of the Christian era. Nay, it was not known for about two hundred years after that. This surely is a striking fact, and should make some men pause and ponder before they condemn. "I think," says the illustrious Bishop Davenant, a divine most intimately versed in ecclesiastical history and the writings of the Fathers, "that it may be truly affirmed, that before the dispute between Augustine and Pelagius, there was no question concerning the death of Christ, whether it was to be extended to all mankind, or to be confined only to the elect. For the Fathers, when speaking of the death of Christ, describe it to us as undertaken and endured for the redemption of the human race; and not a word (that I know of) occurs among them of the exclusion of any person by the decree of God. They agree that it is actually beneficial to those only who believe, yet they everywhere confess that Christ died in behalf of all mankind. [He then quotes from Clemens Alexandrinus, Origen, Primasius, Athanasius and Prosper].

Bishop Davenport goes on to give some further details respecting the opinions of Augustine: "We assert, therefore, that Augustine never attempted to impugn that proposition of the Semi-pelagians, that Christ died for the whole human race . . . For neither did Augustine ever oppose as erroneous the proposition ‘that Christ died for the redemption of the whole human race;’ nor did he ever acknowledge or defend as his own, ‘that Christ died, not for all men, but for the pre-destinate alone.í"

Augustine died A.D. 429, and up to his time, at least, there is not the slightest evidence that any Christian ever dreamed of a propitiation for the elect alone. Even after him, the doctrine of a limited propitiation was but slowly propagated, and for long but partially received. [James Morison, The Extent of the Atonement, pages 114-117.]

More recent advocates of unlimited atonement are as follows: D.L.Moody, Albert Barnes, L.S.Chafer, John Walvoord, Robert Lightner, William Newell, R.C.H. Lenski, D.Edmond Hiebert, Robert Gromacki, E.Schuyler English, R.A. Torrey, Charles Ryrie and all the members of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America who have made unlimited atonement part and parcel of their doctrinal statement. Unlimited atonement seems also to be the position of the GARBC (Regular Baptists) because the Regular Baptist Press published the original edition of Robert Lightner’s book, The Death Christ Died, which presents a strong case for unlimited atonement and also David Nettleton’s book Chosen to Salvation. Nettleton refers to "the erroneous doctrine of limited atonement" and says that "limited atonement is not a necessary corollary of the sovereign election of God" (page 79).

Note: One of the men mentioned in the above paragraph was the noted commentator, Albert Barnes (1798-1870), was an American Presbyterian preacher and Bible expositor. In 1835 he was brought to trial by the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia for his belief in unlimited atonement, but was acquitted. The case continued to stir the denomination and was one of the causes of the split in the Presbyterian church in the United States in 1837. See The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church, p.29. Itís interesting to read Barnesí comments under such passages as John 3:16; John 1:29; Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; 1 John 2:2.

Those who are defenders of a Limited Atonement would include Berkhof, Crawford, Cunningham, Eldersveld, Haldane, Hodge, Lloyd-Jones, John Murray, Owen, Packer, Pink, Smeaton, Spurgeon, Stonehouse and Warfield (see Douty, page 163). To this list can be added John Gerstner, Gary Long, David N. Steele, Custis C. Thomas, W.E. Best, John MacArthur and many others. Though we strongly disagree with such men on this issue, we do not vilify them as Charles Spurgeon seemed to do with respect to those holding to unlimited atonement:

"There may be men with minds so distorted that they can conceive it possible that Christ should die for a man who afterwards is lost: I say, there may be such. I am sorry to say that there are still to be found such persons whose brains have been so addled in their childhood, that they cannot see that what they hold is both preposterous falsehood and a blasphemous libel....I feel quite shocked in only mentioning such an awful error, and were it not so current as it is, I should certainly pass it by with the contempt that it deserves" (cited by Norman Duty, The Death of Christ, p. 163).

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