John MacArthur's Position on the Extent of the Atonement

As Compared to the IFCA Doctrinal  Statement

 

Early Indications of MacArthur's Departure

I have a friend who years ago abandoned dispensationalism and premillennialism and plunged into reformed theology and extreme Calvinism. The way he explains limited atonement is as follows: Christ died for all men without distinction but Christ did not die for all men without exception. By this he means that Christ died for all classes of people (male and female, bond and free, Jew and Gentile, etc.) but that he did not die for every single individual. In 1996 my friend made the comment that John MacArthur believes that Christ died only for the elect, that is, that Christ bore God's wrath and paid sin's penalty only for the elect, not for all men.

At first I did not believe that John MacArthur held to a limited atonement because I had found no evidence of this in his writings and commentaries. In his earlier published writings he seemed to argue for an unlimited atonement. I also knew that Charles R. Smith, who was a close associate of Dr. MacArthur and who served as Dean of the Master's Seminary, taught very clearly that Christ did not die only for the elect but that He paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world. He sets forth this position in a booklet entitled Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? (published by BMH Books). Also I knew that John MacArthur signed the IFCA doctrinal statement which says, "We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross FOR ALL MANKIND as a representative, vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice" (Section 3b). Dr. MacArthur signed this statement and gave his hearty agreement to it.

We wrote to John MacArthur to ask him his position on this matter. Dr. MacArthur did not respond personally, but his Personal Assistant, Dave Swavely, answered on his behalf with a five page letter. In this letter dated 3/20/96 Dave Swavely quoted favorably from A.W.Pink. Pink's quotation said this: "Not one for whom He died can possibly miss heaven." If words mean anything, then this means that Christ did not die for those who miss heaven. In other words, Christ did not die for the non-elect or Christ died only for the elect. In Tape GC 80-123 MacArthur uses this same quote by Pink and cites it in a favorable sense. Apparently MacArthur agrees that not one for whom Christ died can possibly miss heaven. Since Judas missed heaven, this means that Christ did not die for him, nor for Pharaoh, nor for anyone who persists in unbelief.

In this same letter Swavely, writing on behalf of John MacArthur, makes the following statement which seems to argue strongly for a limited atonement position: "He [Christ] did not Ďpay the penalty of siní for those who reject Him, because if He did then they would not have to pay it themselves in hell." According to this statement, the position of Dr. MacArthur seems to be that Christ did not pay the penalty of sin for all men, but only for the elect. This implies that His substitutionary death was not for all mankind, but sinís penalty was paid only for the elect.

Swavely also stated the following: "The atonement is limited in the sense that Christ acted as a substitute only for those who believe in Him." This implies that Christ did not die as a substitute for those who persist in rejecting Him (those who have not been chosen).

One tape which presents John MacArthur's position on the extent of the atonement is Tape GC 56-19 (Titus 2:11, "Saving Grace," part 2, Tit. 2:11, 1993). Almost the entire message is devoted to the extent of the atonement. In this message MacArthur teaches that the death of Christ is for all men, but the non-elect benefit from Christ's death only in a temporal sense (they are not destroyed instantly, they benefit from the rain and sun, they benefit from "common grace" etc.). However only the elect benefit from the death of Christ as far as an actual payment for their sins.

Swavely, in his letter, explains MacArthur's position in this way: "He did not pay the penalty of sin for those who reject Him...but the ramifications of His sacrifice extend beyond that primary purpose of securing salvation for the elect. All of God's creatures, including those men and women who reject God, reap many benefits from the death of Christ, not the least of which is life itself. God could have justly destroyed the world immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, but He graciously allowed it to flourish and sustained it by His hand for thousands of years....So John believes that even the non-elect are affected positively as a result of the atonement of Christ....The atonement is limited in the sense that Christ acted as a substitute only for those who believe in Him. The atonement is unlimited, however, in the sense that its benefits extend to all of God's creation."

What good are these "temporal benefits" as far as the non-elect are concerned? Would not the non-elect have been better off if God had destroyed the world immediately after Adam and Eve sinned? Jesus told Judas that it would have been better if he had never been born. There is a sense in which this is true for all those who persist in unbelief. Not ever having been born is better than spending eternity in the lake of fire.

Thus, when John MacArthur teaches that Christ died for all men (using verses such as John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Timothy 2:6 etc.), what he really means is that there are some temporal blessings that benefit the non-elect. He does not mean that Christ paid sin's penalty for the non-elect. According to Tape GC 56-19 and according to Swavely's letter, John MacArthur believes and teaches that Christ died as a Substitute only for the sins of the elect.

MacArthur's Denial That Christ Died for all Mankind in His Public Tapes

In 1995 John MacArthur gave a message on 2 Corinthians 5:14 (Tape GC 47-36). In this message MacArthur made it very clear that Christ died as a Substitute only for those who believe in Him. The following is transcribed directly from this tape. These are MacArthur's words:

The atonement has its unlimited aspects. You see benefiting from the atonement in unlimited ways the human race through temporal deliverance (emphasis mine). He's the Saviour of all men in a temporal sense (emphasis mine), that is, He doesn't destroy them all immediately upon their sin. You see providence, God's care, in a very general sense. He (God) lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust, divine goodness. And then you see gospel invitations given to every man and every man held culpable for the rejection of that invitation to be punished eternally because he will not believe. All those indicate to us that there is an unlimited aspect of Christ's work on the cross, but when you talk of "Substitution" you now are talking about the limited aspect of it. (Tape GC 47-36)

The atonement can only be a real substitution for those who died in Christ (believers). In the substitutionary sense He died only for those who died in Him (those who put faith in Jesus). He is the Substitute only for those who believe (emphasis mine), otherwise you have a major problem because you have Christ dying as a Substitute for the whole world. That means He was bearing the sins of the whole world in a substitutionary sense. If in fact He was carrying Himself to the cross as a Substitute for the sins of every person who ever lived, He would therefore have done away with the wrath of God and procured for them eternal life and we would all be universalists (Tape GC 47-36).

He did not die as a Substitute, taking away the sin of people who don't believe in Him or He would have procured a salvation for them and everybody would be saved. In the substitutionary sense He bore only the sins of those who ultimately would put their faith in Him (emphasis mine) because they were His (Tape GC 47-36).

Another tape which clearly reveals John MacArthur's position on the extent of the atonement is GC 47-38, "The Ministry of Reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18-21), 1995. The following are MacArthur's words exactly transcribed:

Did Christ actually pay the penalty for everybody's sins? And if He did pay the penalty for everyone's sins then the suffering for sin was already accomplished. How in the world could someone then have to suffer eternally for their sin?...If sinners are sent to hell to pay forever for their sins, their sins could not have been paid for by Christ on the cross (Tape GC 47-38).

The actual atonement was made only for those who would believe. Only their sins were expiated, otherwise nobody could go to hell if God had in Christ borne the punishment for their sins. There would be no sins for them to be punished for (Tape GC 47-38).

When Christ died He actually paid the penalty for the sins of those whom God had designed to belong to Him....The focus and attention of the actual atonement of Christ, the actual expiation, the actual sin-bearing was in behalf of those who would believe....The actual payment, however, was limited to those who believed, whose names were written in the Lamb's book of life before the foundation of the world (Tape GC 47-38).

In a more recent tape MacArthur clearly teaches that Christ died on the cross and took the penalty only for those who would believe. This is a tape of a message delivered to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention [Tape GTY 64, 1997]. In this tape John MacArthur is explaining the expression "He hath made Him to be sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Here is MacArthur's explanation:

God treated Him as if He had personally committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe and punished Him for them all, though in reality He had never committed one. That's substitution!.....God treated Jesus as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe and then He took the penalty for all those sins and just crushed the life of Jesus out with His wrath. (emphasis mine)

MacArthur in the above quote sets forth a limited atonement position which says that Christ died only for the sins of the elect (those who would believe). The unlimited position says that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, "the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). Christ tasted death "for every man" (Heb. 2:9).

Apparently John MacArthur's earlier teaching on the extent of the atonement was in favor of an unlimited atonement. I listened with interest to Tape GC 54-13 on 1 Timothy 2:5-8, a message MacArthur delivered in 1986. On this tape he comes out very strongly for unlimited atonement. It was well done. The same could be said for Tape GC 54-12 on 1 Timothy 2:2b-4 which was an excellent message showing that God desires all men (without exception) to be saved. But seven years later (Tape GC 56-19, 1993) and nine years later (Tape GC 47-36, 1995) MacArthur clearly sets forth a limited atonement position. Apparently MacArthur has changed his position on this issue, thus explaining why there is no evidence of limited atonement teachings in MacArthur's older commentaries.

MacArthur's Denial That Christ Died for All Mankind in His Published Books

In 2006 John MacArthurís New Testament Commentary on John 1-11 was published. On page 259 he makes this statement which is in harmony with his limited atonement position:

Redemption is the work of God. Christ died to accomplish it, not merely to make it possible and then finally accomplished when the sinner believes. The Bible does not teach that Jesus died for everyone potentially, but no one actually. On the contrary, Christ procured salvation for all whom God would call and justify; He actually paid the penalty in full for all who would ever believe. Sinners do not limit the atonement by their lack of faith; God does by His sovereign design.

In this quotation, MacArthur is teaching that the atonement is limited by Godís sovereign choice and that Christ actually died only for the elect. The Bible teaches that Christ actually tasted death for every man (Heb. 2:9), even though we know that the actual work which Christ accomplished on the cross for all of Adamís fallen race does not benefit any individual sinner until he believes.

MacArthur has also promoted a limited atonement in a gospel tract which he has authored.  It is entitled The Promise of Heaven and is published by Good News Publishers (catalog number 7H07).  In the third column of the tract, MacArthur writes, "When God forgives, He cannot merely overlook sin.  Full payment (atonement) must be made for our sin.  Christ's death made full atonement for those who trust HimIf we believe in Him, His dying counts in our stead, paying for our sins in full [emphasis ours]."  

In The MacArthur New Testament Commentaryó1-3 John, MacArthur made it very clear, in his comments under 1 John 2:2,  that he rejects unlimited atonement in favor of the limited atonement position:

Christ's death actually satisfies fully and eternally the demands of God's wrath for those who believe.  Though the Savior's death intrinsically had infinite value, it was designed to actually (not potentially) secure the satisfaction for divine justice only on behalf of those who would believe....Christ's work on the cross atoned for all those who would be sovereignly drawn by God to repent and believe....However, His death did not atone for or satisfy divine justice regarding the unrepentant, unbelieving millions who will appear before the Judge at the great white throne, from where they will be sentenced to eternal punishment in the lake of fire (pp. 49-50).

For an explanation of what 1 John 2:2 really teaches, see our study entitled For Whom Did Christ Die?


MacArthur's Denial that Christ Died for All Mankind in his Study Bible

In the fall of 1997 MacArthur published The MacArthur Study Bible in which he made clear his position on the extent of the atonement:

THE MACARTHUR STUDY BIBLE

"Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe...Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ...His sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith...the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe" [see note under 1 John 2:2].

In his note under Hebrews 2:9ó"taste death for everyone. Everyone who believes, that is."  George Zeller's comment on MacArthurís note: The Bible says He tasted death for every man. The Amplified Bible translates it, "for every individual person" and see the excellent note by Dean Alford under this passage. The Bible teaches that He died for every man or for everyone (NASB, NIV) but MacArthur says that this means He died for "everyone who believes." But the text of Hebrews 2:9 does not say this.]

"God the Father...had Him (Jesus) die as a Substitute to pay the penalty for the sins of those who believe in Him...On the cross He was treated as if He were guilty of all the sins ever committed by all who would ever believe" [see note under 2 Cor. 5:21].

In his note on Galatians 3:13 MacArthur teaches that Christ bore "God's wrath for believers' sins on the cross."

"Christ suffered...as the Christian's substitute. To bear sins was to be punished for them. Christ bore the punishment and the penalty for believers...This great doctrine of the substitutionary atonement is the heart of the gospel. Actual atonement, sufficient for the sins of the whole world, was made for all who would ever believe, namely the elect" [see note under 1 Peter 2:24].

"Not all will be ransomed, but only the many who believe by the work of the Holy Spirit and for whom the actual atonement was made. Christ became the object of God's just wrath in the believer's place--He died his death and bore his sin....the substitutionary aspect of His death is applied to the elect alone" [see note under 1 Timothy 2:6].

"God treated Him (Christ) as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe" [see note under Isaiah 53:6].

In his note on 1 Timothy 4:10 MacArthur explains how Christ's death benefits the "non-elect" only in a temporal sense, but that Christ died as a Substitute only for believers.

 

MacArthur's Denial That Christ Died For All Mankind in Other Published Writings

In 1998 John MacArthur published a book entitled, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness [published by Crossway Books, 1998]. In this book MacArthur teaches that Christ bore the penalty for sin for only those who will believe (emphasis mine):

"God treated Christ like a sinner and punished Him for all the sins of all who would believe" (p. 20).

"Christ ransomed His people by paying on their behalf the penalty for their sin that was demanded by divine righteousness" (p.21).

"All the guilt of all the sins of all who would ever be saved was imputed to Jesus Christóreckoned to His account as if He were guilty of all of it" (p.26).

So instead of teaching that the sins of the entire human race were imputed to Jesus Christ when He died on the cross, MacArthur teaches that it was only the sins "of all who would ever be saved" (the elect) that were imputed to Him. This is clearly a limited atonement position which is contradictory to the position which says that Christ died and paid the penalty for the sins of all mankind, the sins of the whole world.

In 1996 MacArthur wrote a book The Glory of Heaven which was later adapted into a gospel tract which was published by Good News Publishers of Wheaton, IL. In the tract MacArthur explains the gospel as follows: "When God forgives, He cannot merely overlook sin. Full payment (atonement) must be made for our sin. Christís death made full atonement for those who trust Him. If we believe Him, His dying counts in our stead, paying for our sins in full." In discussing the death of Christ and the full payment made for sins, MacArthur is very careful to limit this to only those who trust Him and believe in Him. For others, according to MacArthur, no payment was made.

In 2003 MacArthurís major commentary on 2 Corinthians was published. In it he continues to deny that Christ died for all mankind:

Christ did not die for all men without exception, but for all men without distinction....Those passages [passages such as Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 2:6] cannot mean that Christ actually paid the penalty for everyoneís sins, because the Bible teaches that most people will suffer eternal punishment in hell, and few will be saved. If Christ paid the penalty for everyoneís sins, how could God sentence people to hell for sins that Christ bore the punishment for? (page 202).

To say that Christ died for all men without distinction but He did not die for all men without exception is typical of how limited atonement men use semantics. They want you to think they believe that Christ died for all men even though they actually deny this. When they say that He died for all men without distinction they merely mean that He died for all classes of men: rich, poor, black, white, Jew, Gentile, male, female, etc. But when you pin them down they will admit that they only mean that He died for the ELECT who are to be found in these different classes, and that the vast majority of mankind (who are rich, poor, black, white, Jew, Gentile, male, female, etc.) He did not die for at all! No provision was made for them at all!

Also, in the above quote MacArthur confuses redemption accomplished with redemption applied. He thinks that if Christ died for a person, then that person must be saved. MacArthur favorably quoted Pink [Tape GC 80-123] as saying, "Not one for whom He died can possibly miss heaven" (implying that people will miss heaven because He didnít die for them). But even though Christís work of redemption was accomplished for all, it is not applied to anyone until they personally appropriate it by faith. It was accomplished for them and it was provided for them, but it does not actually become theirs until they receive it by faith. "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24; compare Acts 10:43). He paid sinís penalty for all, but the benefits of that cross-work are not put to a personís account until they believe. If a person misses heaven it is not because no provision was made and it is not because the Saviour did not die for that person. It is because they have rejected Godís only provision found in the Person and work of His Son!

John MacArthurís Clear and Forceful Denial That Christ Died For All

John MacArthurís New Testament Commentary (on) 2 Peter & Jude was published in 2005. On pages 73-74 we find a very strong and clear denial of unlimited atonement and a defense of limited atonement. On these pages MacArthur denies and affirms the following:

1) He denies the "popular notion...that God loves everyone, wants everyone saved, so Christ died for everyone" (p. 73).

2) He strongly denies that "Christ died to pay in full the penalty for everyoneís sins" (p. 73).

3) He affirms that Christ only died for "all who would believe because they were chosen, called, justified, and granted repentance and faith by the Father" (p. 74).

4) He affirms that "the atonement is limited to those who believe, who are the elect of God" (p. 74).

5) He denies unlimited atonement and says, "One should forget the idea of an unlimited atonement" (p.74).

6) He affirms that "God limits the atonement to the elect" (p.74)

7) He affirms that "God provided the sacrifice in His Son" only "for the sins of all who would ever believe, the ones chosen by Him for salvation" (p. 74).

The glorious gospel of our blessed God involves the good news, the glad tidings which are "to all people" (Luke 2:10). What a tragic affront to the gospel to have one of Americaís most outstanding Bible teachers attacking the fact that God loves everyone (John 3:16), wants everyone saved (see 1 Tim. 2:4), and so died for everyone (Heb. 2:9).  Lest I be accused of taking these comments of MacArthur out of context, Iím going to reproduce these two pages in their entirety:

New Testament Commentary (on) 2 Peter & Jude (2005)
by John MacArthur (pages 73-74)

Many take this statement the Master who bought them [2 Peter 2:1] to mean that Christ actually has purchased redemption in full for all people, even for false teachers. It is commonly thought that Christ died to pay in full the penalty for everyone*s sins, whether they ever believe or not. The popular notion is that God loves everyone, wants everyone saved, so Christ died for everyone.

This means His death was a potential sacrifice or atonement that becomes an actual atonement when a sinner repents and believes the gospel. Evangelism, according to this view, is convincing sinners to receive what has already been done for them. All can believe and be saved if they will, since no one is excluded in the atonement.

This viewpoint, if taken to its logical conclusion, has hell full of people whose salvation was purchased by Christ on the cross. Therefore the lake of fire is filled with those damned people whose sin Christ fully atoned for by bearing their punishment under God*s wrath.

Heaven will be populated by people who had the same atonement provided for them, but they are there because they received it. Christ, in this view, died on the cross for the damned in hell the same as He did for the redeemed in heaven. The only difference between the redeemed*s fate and that of the damned is the sinner*s choice.

This perspective says that the Lord Jesus Christ died to make salvation possible, not actual. He did not absolutely purchase salvation for anyone. He only removed a barrier for everyone, which merely makes salvation potential. The sinner ultimately determines the nature of the atonement and its application by what he does. According to this perspective, when Jesus cried, "It is finished," it really should be rendered, "It is stated."

Of course, the preceding interpretational difficulties and fallacies arising from this view stem from the misunderstanding of two very important biblical teachings: the doctrine of absolute inability (often called total depravity) and the doctrine of the atonement itself.

Rightly understood, the doctrine of absolute inability says that all people are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), alienated from the life of God (Rom. 1:21-22), doing only evil from terminally deceitful hearts (cf. Jer. 17:9), incapable of understanding the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), blinded by love of sin, further blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), desiring only the will of their father the devil, unable to seek God, and unwilling to repent (cf. Rom. 3:10-23). So how is the sinner going to make the right choice to activate the atonement on his behalf?

Clearly, salvation is solely from God (cf. Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9}óHe must give light, life, sight, understanding, repentance, and faith (John 1:12-13; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation comes to the sinner from God, by His will and power. Since that is true, and based on the doctrine of sovereign election (1 Peter 1:1-3; 2 Peter 1:3; cf. Rom. 8:26-30; 9:14-22; Eph. 1:3-6),God determined the extent of the atonement.

For whom did Christ die? He died for all who would believe because they were chosen, called, justified, and granted repentance and faith by the Father. The atonement is limited to those who believe, who are the elect of God. Any believer who does not believe in universal salvation knows Christ*s atonement is limited (cf. Matt. 7:13; 8:12; 10:28; 22:13; 25:46; Mark 9:43,49; John 3:17-18; 8:24; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Anyone who rejects the notion that the whole human race will be saved believes necessarily in a limited atonementóeither limited by the sinner who is sovereign, or by God who is sovereign.

One should forget the idea of an unlimited atonement. If he asserts that sinners have the power to limit its application, then the atonement by its nature is limited in actual power and effectiveness. With that understanding, it is less than a real atonement and is, in fact, merely potential and restricted by the volitions of fallen human beings. But in truth, only God can set the atonement*s limits, which extend to every believing sinner without distinction.

Adherents to the unlimited view must affirm that Christ actually atoned for no one in particular but potentially for everyone without exception. Whatever He did on the cross was not a full and complete payment for sin, because sinners for whom He died are still damned. Hell is full of people whose sins were paid for by Christósin paid for, yet punished forever.

Of course, such thinking is completely unacceptable. God limits the atonement to the elect, for whom it was not a potential but an actual and real satisfaction for sin. God provided the sacrifice in His Son, which actually paid for the sins of all who would ever believe, the ones chosen by Him for salvation (cf. Matt. 1:21; John 10:11,27-28; Eph. 5:25-26).

In the above paragraphs, MacArthur has again failed to make the proper distinction between redemption accomplished and redemption applied. Redemption is accomplished for all, as numerous Scripture passages declare (1 Tim. 2:6; Isa. 53:6; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2; etc.), but redemption is applied only to those who believe. Even MacArthur would acknowledge that Christ died to pay the penalty for the sins of Saul of Tarsus, and yet MacArthur would also agree that Christís death for Saul did not secure his salvation until he believed in Christ. At the time Saul was persecuting Christians he was not a saved man, even though Christ had already died for him. The death of Christ, in itself, does not automatically save anyone. It was not until Saulís conversion that the benefits of the cross-work of Christ were put to his account. Redemption was accomplished by Christ at the cross for all mankind; redemption is applied by the Holy Spirit to the heart of the believing sinner the moment he believes. People are not lost because Christ did not die for them; they are lost because they reject the Christ who died for them. People are not lost because the water of life is not available to them; they are lost because they refuse to drink!

Also in the above paragraphs, MacArthur teaches that if Christ bore the iniquity of everyone then universal salvation would be the result. Boettner makes a similar false statement: "Universal redemption means universal salvation." That is, "If Christ died for everyone, then everyone will be saved." Think about the logic of such statements. It would be like saying, "If medicine is available for everyone, then everyone must be healed." This is obviously false. The medicine, though available, will not do any good unless it is taken. A Biblical illustration of this is found in John 3, where the death of Christ is likened to the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness. God provided a remedy for each and every Israelite without exception. Looking at the brazen (bronze) serpent would have healed anyone and everyone from the deadly bite of the fiery serpents. Only those who obeyed by looking were healed! The remedy was provided for all; only those who looked benefited from Godís remedy and were healed.

MacArthur believes that "not one for whom Christ died can possibly miss heaven" (Tape GC 80-123). However, no one will ever stand before God and say, "I will miss heaven because the Saviour did not die for me." On the contrary, every mouth will be stopped because Godís great salvation was both provided at the cross and offered to every sinner. It almost seems blasphemous to blame the doom of sinners on the supposed fact that Christ did not die for them.

If any one still doubts whether MacArthur holds to a limited atonement, consider the following quote by MacArthur in which he gave a highly favorable review of the book, The Five Points of Calvinism--Defined, Defended and Documented by David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas and S. Lance Quinn:

I am thankful for this timely revision of a wonderful classic that has already been an immense blessing to countless thousands. Notwithstanding its success over the years, the only question that ultimately matters about the five points of Calvinism" is whether these doctrines are biblical. This book has demonstrated (conclusively, in my judgment) that the "five points" are nothing more or less than what the Bible teaches. The doctrines of grace and divine sovereignty are the very lifeblood of the full and free salvation promised in the gospel.   [This quote is found on page 139 of the above mentioned book.  MacArthur wrote the "Afterword" for the book.]

 

John MacArthurís Position in Contrast with the IFCA Position

In view of John MacArthur's position on the extent of the atonement as documented is this paper, I am puzzled by how Dr. MacArthur in good conscience could have signed the IFCA doctrinal statement which says: "We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross FOR ALL MANKIND as a representative, vicarious, SUBSTITUTIONARY sacrifice." The original IFCA statement did not carry this wording. This part of the IFCA doctrinal statement was changed in 1985 because the men of the IFCA wanted to be very clear on the issue of the extent of the atonement. They rejected the idea that Christ died and paid the penalty only for the sins of the elect. They rejected the doctrine of "limited atonement" as it is generally understood. That this is what was intended by the doctrinal statement is further seen by the fact that the official IFCA book list catalog recommends the following two books: 1) The Death Christ Died by Robert Lightner; 2) Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? by Charles Smith. Both of these books argue forcefully against LIMITED ATONEMENT, showing that the Scriptures teach that Christ paid the death penalty as a Substitute for all mankind, including those who are not the elect of God. How then could John MacArthur have signed the IFCA Doctrinal Statement in light of the fact that he clearly denies that Christ died as a Substitute for the whole world?

I received a letter from John MacArthur's co-worker, Phil Johnson (Executive Director, Grace To You) in which he answered some of my questions and further explained John MacArthur's position on the extent of the atonement. This letter is dated 10/29/96 and a copy of the entire letter is attached at the end of this paper. The key paragraph reads as follows:

You raise the question of how John MacArthur can sign the IFCA doctrinal statement, which says, "We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for all mankind as a representative, vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice." But nothing in that statement is incompatible with John MacArthur's view. Christ died for all mankind without distinction. That does not mean He died for each individual without exception. In other words, Christ is the Savior of all mankind, not of the Jews only. Nonetheless, the substitutionary, efficacious aspects of His atoning work apply only to believers.

The IFCA statement says that Christ died as a Substitute for all mankind. Phil Johnson, writing on behalf of John MacArthur, says that He did not die for each individual without exception. There is a clear contradiction here. The dictionary defines "mankind" as "the human race, the totality of human beings." When you add the qualifying adjective "ALL" ("all mankind") then it clearly refers to every individual of the human race without exception.

Phil Johnson has re-stated the IFCA doctrinal statement by saying, "Christ died for all mankind without distinction." He added the words "without distinction." They are not found in the IFCA doctrinal statement. Limited atonement men will commonly say, "Christ died for all men without distinction but He did not die for all men without exception." This is a clever way of saying that He died for all men without really meaning that He died for all men. What they really mean is the Christ died for all kinds of men--Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, male and female, bond and free, etc. But they insist that He only died for the elect Jews and Gentiles, the elect rich and poor, etc. However, Hebrews 2:9 teaches that He died for all men without exception ("for every individual person"--Amplified translation and see Dean Alford's comments on this verse).

In his letter Phil Johnson also made this comment: "John MacArthur's view on these matters are nearly identical to the position outlined by R.B.Kuiper in his book, For Whom Did Christ Die? That book goes into greater detail than MacArthur has in any of his messages, so it might be of help if you're seeking to understand the position better." R.B. Kuiper is a non-dispensational, covenant theologian and a five point Calvinist.  Neither Kuiper's limited atonement position nor MacArthur's limited atonement position is in harmony with the IFCA doctrinal statement which declares that  Christ died on the cross for all mankind.

What Does the IFCA Statement Really Mean?

Let us now analyze the IFCA doctrinal statement and see what it really says:

"Christ died on the cross for all mankind..."

MacArthur teaches that He did not die for all mankind, but that He died only for the elect. On Tape GC 80-123 MacArthur favorably quotes A.W.Pink (a limited redemptionist, a five point Calvinist) who said, "Not one for whom He died can possibly miss heaven." Also MacArthurís personal assistant, Dave Swavely, wrote to me on 3/20/96 to explain MacArthurís position on the atonement and he also cited this same quote from Pink to support and represent MacArthurís position. Itís obvious that most of mankind will miss heaven (Matt. 7:13-14) and according to MacArthur and Pink this means that Christ did not die for most of mankind. The IFCA doctrinal statement says that He died for all mankind, which means that He even died for the majority of mankind that are going to miss heaven.1

Note:  ďNot one for who whom Christ died can miss heaven.Ē If this is really true, as Pink and MacArthur teach, then the practical ramifications are very sobering. For example, I have witnessed to people who, sad to say, have missed heaven. They have since died and as far as I know they rejected Christ and entered eternity without Christ. But when they were alive I announced to them the good news that Christ died for their sins (1 Cor. 15:1-3). If what MacArthur is saying is true, then I lied to them! These people missed heaven and this means, according to Pink/MacArthur, Christ did not really die for them. Therefore, my witnessing to them was a lie and I misrepresented the gospel to them, according to the teaching of Pink/MacArthur.

In the letter I received from Phil Johnson (Executive Director, Grace to You) dated 10/29/96 he wrote to me the following (in explaining John MacArthurís position on the atonement): "Christ died for all mankind without distinction. That does not mean He died for each individual without exception." The IFCA statement says that Christ died for all mankind, and this means He died for each individual without exception. Johnson, in explaining MacArthurís position, says that Christ did not die for each individual without exception. There is an obvious conflict in these two positions.

Hebrews 2:9 agrees with the IFCA statement: "He tasted death for every man" (or "for every individual person"Ėsee Amplified Bible and see Dean Alfordís comments on this verse). If a person says that Christ did not die for each individual without exception, does not this violate the IFCA statement? It is interesting what MacArthur says about Hebrews 2:9. In the MacArthur Study Bible note under Hebrews 2:9 it says, "taste death for every man. Everyone who believes, that is." Thus the Bible says that Christ tasted death for every man or for everyone, but MacArthur teaches that He tasted death for "everyone who believes." The IFCA doctrinal statement says that He died as a Substitute "for all mankind" but MacArthur teaches that He died only for that part of mankind that believes. There is a clear conflict between these two positions. They are not one and the same.

"Christ died on the cross for all mankind as a representative...sacrifice."

According to the Scriptures, there are only two men who acted as representatives of the entire human race, Adam and Christ (Romans 5). Adam, by his act of disobedience, acted on behalf of the entire human race. Likewise, Christ, by His act of obedience (Phil. 2:8), acted on behalf of the entire human race, or as the IFCA statement says, "for all mankind." Those holding to a limited atonement say that when Christ died on the cross He did not act on behalf of the entire human race, but He acted only on the behalf of the elect. As we shall see, this is what MacArthur teaches. So the key question is this: Did Christ bear the sins of the entire race or did He only bear the sins of the elect? In MacArthurís book The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (1998) he says, "All the guilt of all the sins of all who would ever be saved was imputed to Jesus Christóreckoned to His account as if He were guilty of all of it" (p.26). Here MacArthur teaches that the sins of all who would ever be saved were imputed to Christ when He died on the cross, not the sins of the entire human race. Thus Christ, according to MacArthur, acted as a Representative not for Adamís entire race, but only for the elect.

"Christ died on the cross for all mankind as a ...vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice."

"Vicarious" means "serving instead of someone else, performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for another, substitutionary" and thus the terms vicarious and substitutionary are two ways of saying the same thing. The IFCA wanted to make it crystal clear that Christís substitutionary death (when He bore the wrath of God in the sinnerís place) was for all mankind. That is, He bore the wrath of God and paid sinís penalty for all mankind. This is exactly the point which MacArthur repeatedly denies in his published writings and public tapes.

MacArthur makes it clear that there is a sense in which Christ died for all mankind, but it is not in the substitutionary sense. He teaches that the death of Christ is for all men but the non-elect benefit from Christís death only in a temporal sense (they are not destroyed instantly, they benefit from the sun and the rain, they benefit from "common grace" etc.). This is explained by MacArthur in his Study Bible note under 1 Timothy 4:10. However MacArthur makes it clear that Christ died as a Substitute only for the elect. "He did not pay the penalty of sin for those who reject Him...All of Godís creatures, including men and women who reject God, reap many benefits from the death of Christ, not the least of which is life itself...So John (MacArthur) believes that even the non-elect are affected positively as a result of the atonement of Christ...The atonement is limited in the sense that Christ acted as a Substitute only for those who believe in Him" (Swavelyís letter, 3/20/96).2


MacArthur's Limited Atonement Position

I would now like to establish, beyond any doubt, that MacArthur teaches a limited atonement, that Christ died as a Substitute and paid sinís penalty only for the elect and not for all mankind. The objective reader should be able to understand the plain sense of the following statements:

"He (Christ) did not pay the penalty of sin for those who reject Him" (Swavely explaining MacArthurís position in his 3/20/96 letter).

"Christ acted as a Substitute only for those who believe in Him" (Swavely explaining MacArthurís position in his 3/20/96 letter).

"There is an unlimited aspect of Christís work on the cross, but when you talk of "substitution" you now are talking about the limited aspect of it" (MacArthur, Tape GC 47-36).

"He is the Substitute only for those who believe, otherwise you have a major problem because you have Christ dying as a Substitute for the whole world. That means He was bearing the sins of the whole world in a substitutionary sense. If in fact He was carrying Himself to the cross as a Substitute for the sins of every person who ever lived, He would therefore have done away with the wrath of God and procured for them eternal life and we would all be universalists" (MacArthur, Tape GC 47-36).

"In the substitutionary sense He bore only the sins of those who ultimately would put their faith in Him" (MacArthur, Tape GC 47-46).

"The actual atonement was made only for those who would believe" (Tape GC 47-38).

"When Christ died He actually paid the penalty for the sins of those whom God had designed to belong to Him...The actual payment was limited to those who believed, whose names were written in the Lambís book of life before the foundation of the world" (Tape GC 47-38).

"God treated Him as if He had personally committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe and punished Him for them all, though in reality He had never committed one. Thatís substitution! God treated Jesus as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe and then He took the penalty for all those sins and just crushed the life of Jesus out with His wrath" (Tape GTY 64, 1997).

"Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe" (Study Bible under 1 John 2:2).

"God the Father...had Him (Jesus) die as a Substitute to pay the penalty for the sins of those who believe in Him" (Study Bible under 2 Cor. 5:21).

In his Study Bible note on Galatians 3:13 MacArthur teaches that Christ bore "Godís wrath for believersí sins on the cross."

"The substitutionary aspect of His death is applied to the elect alone" (Study Bible under 1 Timothy 2:6).

In his Study Bible note on 1 Timothy 4:10 MacArthur explains how Christís death benefits the "non-elect" only in a temporal sense, but that Christ died as a Substitute only for believers."

"Christ died for all mankind without distinction. That does not mean he died for each individual without exception...The substitutionary, efficacious aspects of His atoning work apply only to believers" (Phil Johnson, on MacArthurís staff, in a letter 10/29/96 in which he explained MacArthurís position).

I wanted to give all of this documentation to show that MacArthur consistently teaches a limited atonement position in which he says that Christ died as a Substitute and paid sinís penalty only for believers (for the elect). This is in sharp contrast to the IFCA position which says that His vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice was "for all mankind."

MacArthur's Position and the IFCA Doctrinal Statement Are Contradictory

How can Christís substitutionary death be "for all mankind" (as the IFCA statement says) if He is a Substitute only for those who believe? These statements are obviously contradictory. If He died as a Substitute only for the elect, then this means that He did not die as a Substitute for all mankind (because all mankind would include a large host of people who are not elect). If He died as a Substitute for all mankind, then He did not die as a Substitute only for the elect. Itís true that He died as a Substitute for the elect, but not only for the elect (which is the point that MacArthur constantly maintains in the quotes given earlier).

If John MacArthurís position (that Christís substitutionary death is limited only to the elect) is in harmony with the IFCA statement, then what would a person have to believe about the substitutionary death of Christ to be out of harmony with the IFCA statement? What would a person need to teach in order for the IFCA leadership to say, "Weíre sorry, but your position on the atonement of Christ is not in harmony with the IFCA position"?

Dr. Robert Lightner and John MacArthur

There are others who have stated that MacArthurís limited atonement position is out of harmony with the unlimited atonement position (such as that set forth in the IFCA doctrinal statement). Dr. Robert Lightner wrote a book, "The Death Christ Died," which for many years was listed on the IFCA literature list, along with Dr. Charles Smithís booklet. Both of these books presented the unlimited atonement position and they represented the position of the IFCA (or else why would the IFCA office carry them and promote them?). Recently Dr. Lightner has revised his book and it has been re-published by Kregel. In the back there is a lengthy appendix in which he deals with John MacArthurís position, especially as set forth in his Study Bible, and shows that MacArthurís position is not in harmony with the unlimited atonement position. Lightner makes it clear that MacArthurís position is contrary to the position which he sets forth in his book. If Lightner is convinced that MacArthurís position is contrary to his book, and if Lightnerís book once represented the IFCA position, then doesnít this indicate that MacArthurís position is contrary to the IFCA position?


What Action did the IFCA Take On This Matter?

When John MacArthurís Study Bible was published many men in the IFCA were concerned because these notes clearly set forth a limited atonement position (as we have already documented). The IFCA leadership was made aware of this problem. Dr. Richard Gregory, the National Executive Director of the IFCA, visited John MacArthur and talked to him personally about these matters, seeking to determine MacArthurís position on the extent of the atonement. Apparently MacArthur assured Richard Gregory that he believed that Christís death was sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect and this satisfied Dr. Gregory. In November 1997 the National Executive Committee of the IFCA met and this issue was on the agenda. Dr. Gregory gave his report of his meeting with John MacArthur and based on this the Committee apparently made the decision that John MacArthurís position on the extent of the atonement was not out of harmony with the IFCA doctrinal statement.

As I have already argued, I strongly disagree with this conclusion. It is sad that the IFCA leaders have allowed for "freedom of interpretation" when it comes to the IFCA doctrinal statement so that a man who believes that Christ paid sinís penalty for all mankind and a man who denies this and teaches that He only paid sinís penalty for the elect can both sign the doctrinal statement!! My understanding is that the IFCA doctrinal statement (as amended in 1984, with the words "for all mankind" added) was intended to exclude those holding a limited atonement position, but apparently this is not the understanding of the current IFCA leadership.

Two Former IFCA Executive Directors Clarify What the Real Issues Are

On January 26, 1999 I received an e-mail communication from Harold Freeman who was the IFCA National Executive Director at the time the IFCA doctrinal statement was amended and the words "for all mankind" were added. The following is his recollection of why this amendment was made:

The amendment to which George Zeller refers in his e-mail to you did pass at the convention in 1984. In the discussion on the floor of the convention one delegate asked for the intended purpose of the proposed amendment. As Executive Director I responded that it was meant to convey the IFCA stand for unlimited atonement. In the published minutes of the 1985 convention at Winona Lake Indiana it was reported to have passed the necessary ratification by the Regionals by a vote of 25 yes and zero no votes, thus having been approved for adoption. It is interesting that the report in the published minutes refers to it as (Unlimited Atonement). The wording of the amendment itself is prima facie evidence.

Bryan Jones, who sent me this e-mail, was also a former National Executive Director of the IFCA, and he stated to me that he believes that Harold Freemanís comments are accurate as well as he can remember. Thus based on the recollection of two former Executive Directors, including the man who presided over the IFCA at the time the amendment passed, it was the stated intention of this amendment to set forth the unlimited atonement position in contrast to the limited atonement position.

The IFCA Doctrinal Statement was amended in 1984 with respect to the extent of the atonement. Those IFCA leaders made it clear that the intended purpose of the amendment was to take a stand for unlimited atonement and to not allow into membership men who hold to a limited atonement persuasion.  Why is it that the current IFCA leadership allows limited atonement men to be members of the IFCA in direct conflict with the statement of faith?  If the IFCA leadership now desires to have limited atonement men in the IFCA, then would not honesty and doctrinal integrity require them to amend the doctrinal statement once again to allow for limited atonement?

The IFCA Doctrinal Statement has not been changed.  This raises the another question as to how limited atonement men can honestly sign a doctrinal statement which declares that Jesus Christ died as a Substitute "for all mankind."  Do they sign it with their fingers crossed behind their backs? 
 

A Letter Written to John MacArthur's Church and the Response Received

Blake Lewis
7 Forest Rd.
Cromwell, CT 06416
 

October 3, 2007

Grace Community Church
13248 Roscoe Blvd.
Sun Valley, California 91352

Dear Sirs:

I have a doctrinal question. Does John MacArthur believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for all mankind as a representative, vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice?

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question.

Sincerely in Christ,
Blake Lewis

Please notice that the question which was asked was taken directly from the IFCA Doctrinal Statement which says, "We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for all mankind as a representative, vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice."  The response to this letter is as follows:

01/11/2007

Dear Mr. Lewis,

Thank you for your recent letter of inquiry with regards to Dr. MacArthur's position on the atonement of Christ.  Due to Dr. MacArthur's current schedule, I've been asked by his office to respond to you on his behalf.

There are a few excellent resources that elaborate on Dr. MacArthur's position on the atonement of Christ and as to whether Christ died on the cross for all mankind as a representative, vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice.

The first is the MacArthur Study Bible note on 2 Cor. 5:21 which explains Dr. MacArthur's position. The second is the Grace to You website at www.gty.org.  On this website there is a search option by topic on the left side of the screen. When you type in atonement, you will be given access to the transcripts of Dr. MacArthur's sermons on this topic.

Thank you again for your letter.  I trust these resources will encourage and edify you in Christ.

For His glory,

Mark Chin, Pastoral Care Dept.,
Grace Community Church

The MacArthur Study Bible note on 2 Cor. 5:21 says "actual atonement was made only for those who believe."  The MacArthur Bible Commentary note on 2 Cor. 5:21 says, "God the Father...treated Christ as if He were a sinner though He was not, and had Him die as a substitute to pay the penalty for the sins of those who believe in Him....He was treated as if He were guilty of all the sins ever committed by all who would ever believe" (emphasis mine).

I then went to the website that Mark Chin mentioned in his letter to Blake Lewis.  I did a search, typing in the word "atonement."  A number of sermons came up.  The following are quotes from the first three sermons that are listed:

Quotes from John MacArthur's Sermons on the Topic of the Atonement

From the sermon, "The Doctrine of Actual Atonement, Part 1" (no date is given)

If I ask the average Christian for whom did Christ die?  The traditional answer would be, "Everybody...everybody, Christ died for the whole world."  Most people in the church believe that on the cross Jesus paid the debt of sin for everyone because He loves everyone and He wants everyone to be saved. That's pretty much the common evangelical view. Jesus died for everybody. He paid the price for the sins of everybody. [Note: MacArthur makes it clear in this sermon that he does not agree with this traditional/evangelical view.]

Jesus Christ died and paid in full the penalty for the sins of all who would ever believe so that His atonement is an actual atonement and not a potential one.

The atonement is limited. And by atonement I mean the sacrifice of Christ by which He paid the penalty for sin. The atonement is limited.

So we do believe in a limited atonement. It is limited to those who believe.

God does limit the atonement.  But listen carefully to me.  He limits the atonement as to its extent.

I don't have any problem at all saying the atonement is limited...it's limited to those who believe.

I believe in a limited atonement as to its extent. It is limited to those who believe who are those who are called, who are those who are chosen.  [Note: How could MacArthur say it any clearer?  He believes that Christ died only for the elect.]

God provided a sacrifice in His Son, a true payment in full for the sins of all who would ever believe.

From the sermon, "The Doctrine of Actual Atonement, Part 2" (no date is given)

Sinners do not limit the atonement, God does. Jesus did actually take the penalty in full for all who would ever believe.

From the Sermon, "The Sacrifice That Satisfied--1 John 2:2" (no date is given)

Does [1 John 2:2] mean that Jesus has literally propitiated God for the whole world?  Does the whole world mean the whole world?...[1 John 2:2] is not telling us that the atonement was literally made for everyone.

[Now MacArthur explains what he thinks 1 John 2:2 is really teaching]:  Jesus on the cross offered an atonement for those in Israel who would repent and believe and those throughout the world who would repent and believe. Jesus didn't pay for the sins of Judas. Jesus didn't pay for the sins of Herod. Jesus didn't pay for the sins of Pilate.  Jesus didn't pay for the sins of Adolph Hitler.  Jesus didn't pay for the sins of all that mass of humanity that show up at the Great White Throne and are cast into the Lake of Fire forever...But He did pay for the sins of all who will believe in Israel and the world.

In light of the above quotations, does John MacArthur believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for all mankind as a representative, vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice as the IFCA Doctrinal Statement declares?  The answer is an unequivocal NO!  MacArthur's limited atonement doctrine is completely out of harmony with the IFCA Doctrinal Statement.  MacArthur teaches that Christ died and paid sin's penalty only for those who will believe, that is, only for the elect.
 

The IFCA Devotes An Issue of Their "Voice" Journal (July/August 2008) to the Matter of the Extent of the Atonement

I commend the IFCA for including an excellent article by Charles Smith in which he argues strongly and Biblically against the limited atonement position.  Dr. Smith was my professor at Grace Seminary and he unquestionably held to an unlimited atonement position.  This article by Dr. Smith reflects a position on the extent of the atonement which is contrary to the limited position of Dr. John MacArthur.

Another article was authored by Joseph Smith and entitled, "Evangelism and the Atonement."   I commend Joseph Smith for his exhortation to evangelize the lost, but I did not find his article very helpful as far as contributing to the atonement controversy.  His main point seemed to be, "Regardless of your position on the extent of the atonement, as long as you are passionate about evangelism, that is the one thing that matters."  I agree that we need to be passionate about evangelism, but whether or not Christ died as a Substitute for all mankind is also a matter of great Biblical importance.  If we are not free to go up to any sinner and say, "Christ died for your sins," then this would certainly have practical applications as to how we evangelize the lost.  Do we have a gospel for all men or do we have good news only for the elect?

The key article in the Journal, which was also the lead article, was written by Les Lofquist (the IFCA Executive Director) and entitled, "Toward Understanding the Atonement."  Lofquist is to be commended for quoting from a Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June 2008 article by Gary L. Schultz Jr. which was well reasoned from the Scriptures.  Schultz's article is supportive of the unlimited position.

Lofquist's article, "Toward Understanding the Atonement," favors the unlimited atonement position and argues against the limited position of the strict five-point Calvinist.  However, he presents the issue in such a way as to say that the atonement is both unlimited and limited:  "The Atonement is not limited, but its application through the work of the Holy Spirit is" (p. 11).  This "two-part answer" (p. 11) is supposed to be a "both/and view" which says that the atonement is "universal in intention, particular in application...sufficient for all, efficient for the elect" (p. 12).  He thus argues for both a limited and unlimited understanding of the atonement.  We'll discuss this in a moment.

Where does the IFCA stand on the issue of the extent of the atonement in the light of its clear doctrinal statement?  Lofquist quotes from the 1945 IFCA doctrinal statement, and then he quotes from the amended doctrinal statement of 1984 where the words "for all mankind" were added.  It would have helped if Lofquist had pointed out that the 1984 amended statement was a forceful affirmation of the doctrine of unlimited atonement, although it certainly speaks for itself.  According to Harold Freeman (now with the Lord) who served as the IFCA Executive Director in 1984 when the statement was amended, the very reason the doctrinal statement was changed was to clarify the universal and unlimited extent of the atonement [Freeman's exact quote is cited earlier in this paper].  This is evident as seen by the wording "for all mankind" and the added Scripture references (Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet. 2:1).

Lofquist then stated that "five-point Calvinists would reject the 1984 IFCA Doctrinal Statement, opting for their Limited Atonement view" (p. 12).  And so they should.  How could any honest five point Calvinist sign with integrity a doctrinal statement which says that Christ died as a Substitute "for all mankind"?  How could John MacArthur sign such a statement?

Lofquist then divides the IFCA into two groups:  1)  Those who hold to a "both/and" view of the Atonement (saying "it is universal in intention, particular in application" or saying "it is sufficient for all, efficient for the elect."   2)  Those who hold to an either/or view of the Atonement ("it must be either limited or unlimited").  (p.12).

Lofquist is saying within the IFCA are two groups:  1)  Those who believe the Atonement is both limited and unlimited ("both/and" view);  2)  Those who believe that the Atonement is unlimited and not limited ("either/or" view). 

This is a false dichotomy.  Those who strongly teach unlimited atonement and reject limited atonement certainly recognize that Christ's cross-work is unlimited in its provision but limited in its application.  They believe that there is a clear difference between redemption accomplished for all mankind and redemption applied to those who believe.

Dr. Charles Smith clearly made this distinction in his booklet Did Christ Die Only for the Elect?  Lewis Sperry Chafer, a strong proponent of unlimited atonement, made it clear in his Systematic Theology that the benefits of Christ's death were limited to the elect.  Dr. Robert Lightner in his defense of unlimited atonement, The Death Christ Died, clearly made this distinction.  Charles Ryrie does the same in his Basic Theology.   Other defenders of unlimited atonement (Norman F. Douty, James Morison, Richard Baxter, etc.) recognize this obvious distinction. I have made the same distinction in my paper, For Whom Did Christ Die? as seen in the following:

The careful student of Scripture must make a difference between REDEMPTION ACCOMPLISHED (by Christ at the cross) and REDEMPTION APPLIED (by the Holy Spirit to the heart of the believing sinner). The benefits of the cross-work of Christ are never put to the account of the sinner unless and until he believes.

The extreme Calvinist must also distinguish between the cross-work of Christ that was accomplished and the benefits of that cross-work which are applied to the heart of the believing sinner by the Holy Spirit. Did Christ die for Saul of Tarsus who was persecuting the church of God? Every Calvinist must say YES to this question. If Christ paid the full penalty for the sins of Saul of Tarsus, then why was Saul not forgiven while he was yet persecuting the church? The answer is that he was still in unbelief and it was not until his conversion that the benefits of the cross-work of Christ were put to his account.

All these defenders of the doctrine of unlimited atonement recognize that Christ's cross-work is limited in its application to those who believe.  Only believers receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and a perfect righteous standing in Christ.  Why then does Lofquist make such a dichotomy as if there are unlimited atonement men who deny that Christ's death is limited in its application?  I don't know any sound Bible teacher who believes this.  [Note:  If someone teaches that the atonement is unlimited in its provision and unlimited in its application, then this would be universalism.  If Christ died for all, and if the benefits of His death are applied to all, then this would mean that all are saved.] 

The real issue, which Lofquist fails to clarify, is that there is a huge difference between those who believe in unlimited atonement and those who deny it.  It would have helped greatly if Lofquist could have clearly defined the obvious difference between the two views.  Here is but one illustration of the clear-cut difference:

The Unlimited Atonement Position

The believer in unlimited atonement can honestly speak to any person and give him this good news:  "My friend, the Lord Jesus Christ died for your sins, and if you believe on Him and receive Him as your Saviour, you will receive God's gift of eternal life."

The believer in unlimited atonement believes that Christ died for the sins of Judas, Herod, Pilate and Hitler, yea, for the sins of "all mankind."

 

The Limited Atonement Position

The believer in limited atonement says, ďAs a reformed Christian, the writer believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ himself who are his elect for whom he died" (emphasis mine). [Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel, p. 70]  

The believer in limited atonement says, "Jesus didn't pay for the sins of Judas. Jesus didn't pay for the sins of Herod. Jesus didn't pay for the sins of Pilate.  Jesus didn't pay for the sins of Adolph Hitler.  Jesus didn't pay for the sins of all that mass of humanity that show up at the Great White Throne and are cast into the Lake of Fire forever...But He did pay for the sins of all who will believe in Israel and the world" (John MacArthur, from the Sermon, "The Sacrifice That Satisfied--1 John 2:2.")

The difference between these two positions is like the difference between day and night.  It would have helped if Lofquist could have clarified this difference in his article.  There is a huge difference between what the IFCA doctrinal statement declares and what John MacArthur teaches.    Lofquist says that a strict five-point Calvinist would not like the IFCA doctrinal statement.  Perhaps not.  Whether John MacArthur likes the IFCA statement or not, I do not know.  I'm sure that if he were writing it, he would word it much differently.  But the key question is this:  Why is John MacArthur, a strict five-point Calvinist, allowed to hold membership in the IFCA?   If MacArthur's position is diametrically opposed to the IFCA doctrinal statement then this raises two key questions:  1)  How could MacArthur sign the doctrinal statement?   2)  How could the IFCA leadership allow him to be a member?  These are both issues of doctrinal integrity and they have not been answered.


What is the Biblical Teaching on the Extent of the Atonement?

In contrast to the teaching of limited atonement, the Bible teaches that the death of Christ satisfied the justice of God on behalf of the whole world (1 John 2:2 and 2 Cor. 5:19). He died as a Substitute for each and every man, yea for all men (Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:6), even for those who reject Christ (2 Pet. 2:1). But the individual for whom Christ died does not personally benefit from the death of Christ until he comes to Christ in faith. The death was for all. The provision was for all. The salvation invitation and offer is to all. But only believers benefit (Romans 4:1-8). The fountain of salvation pours out its life giving waters to all, but the only ones who personally benefit are those who drink (Isaiah 55:1; Rev. 22:17). The same is taught in John chapter 6. Christ, the bread of life, gave His flesh for the life of the world (v.51), but only those who personally eat and drink enjoy the benefits of His death (v.53). God gave His only begotten Son for the world, but the only ones who benefit are the "whosoevers" who believe (John 3:16).

As far as what the Bible teaches on this issue, consider the following:

FOR WHOM DID CHRIST DIE?

He died for ALL (1 Tim. 2:6).
He died for ALL MEN (Rom. 5:18; 1 Tim. 4:10).
He died for US ALL, for ALL OF US (Isa. 53:6).
He died for the UNGODLY (Rom. 5:6).
He died for CHRIST-DENIERS (2 Peter 2:1).
He died for SINNERS (Rom. 5:8).
He died for EVERY MAN (Heb. 2:9).
He died for MANY (Matthew 20:28).
He died for the WORLD (John 6:33,51; John 1:29 and John 3:16).
He died for the WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2:2).
He died for the WHOLE NATION of Israel (John 11:50-51).
He died for the CHURCH (Eph. 5:25).
He died for His SHEEP (John 10:11).
He died for ME (Gal. 2:20).

 

The Scriptures teach that the sacrifice of the Lamb of God involved the sin of the world (John 1:29) and that the Saviourís work of redemption (1 Tim. 2:6; 2 Pet. 2:1), reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19), and propitiation (1 John 2:2) was accomplished on behalf of all mankind (1 Timothy 4:10a). However, the cross-work of Christ is efficient, effectual and beneficial only for those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10b; John 3:16).

For further study on these issues see For Whom Did Christ Die?--A Defense of Unlimited Atonement.  For another helpful study, see The Dangers of Reformed Theology.

George Zeller
 

"Saved by grace alone, this is all my plea. Jesus died for all mankind, and Jesus died for me" ĖP.Doddridge.

"Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord, that hath made heaven and earth of nought, and with His blood mankind hath bought" (Old English Carol, The First Noel).

"Lord, I believe were sinners more than sands upon the ocean shore, Thou hast for all a ransom paid, for all a full atonement made"ĖNikolaus L. von Zinzendorf

 


The Middletown Bible Church
349 East Street
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 346-0907

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