Limited Atonement

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by Reformed Thomist, Oct 20, 2009.

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  1. Reformed Thomist

    Reformed Thomist Puritan Board Sophomore

    Is the doctrine of Limited/Particular/Definite Atonement, in our view, retained by those who teach that the Atonement was sufficient for the sins of the whole world but efficient for the sins of the elect only? Or does their qualification (that the Atonement had a 'universal' element) move them away from the Dortian doctrine proper?

    I ask, because the qualified position above appears to have been the position of many historic theologians (Aquinas and Ryle, to name two) who have had reputations for not teaching 'Limited Atonement' on that basis. The qualified position also seems to be what is on the mind of many when they ascribe the label of 'moderate Calvinism' to the Thirty-Nine Articles (implying, perhaps, that a more robust or 'full' Calvinism would make no such qualification; and/or that the qualified position is basically an Amyraldian stance)...
  2. TeachingTulip

    TeachingTulip Puritan Board Sophomore

    My husband and I have found that this argument (apologetic?) is sourced amongst 4-point Calvinists (Amyraldians) at best, and at worst, by free-willer Arminians.

    Which has historically led to the fairly recent notion that God has developed a "well-meant offer of salvation" to all men. Such teachings I reject.

    Indeed. You are correct in your observations.

    Yes, and nowadays, anyone who fails to "moderate" accordingly, are quickly labelled "hyper-Calvinists."

    Which distinction and name-calling, I and my husband, deny.
  3. ewenlin

    ewenlin Puritan Board Junior

    Nailed it. (We should get an emoticon for this.)
  4. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation


    The formula "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect" is standardized terminology as it was found used by Lombard in his Sentences, which served as the basis (together with the Vulgate and its glosses) for all theology in the Middle Ages, and in turn, had a permanent effect on the theology of the Reformed churches. The terminology *itself* is certainly orthodox; see, for example, this section from Dort itself:
    Article 3: The Infinite Value of Christ's Death

    This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.​
    The problems enter when one attempts to apply such language to the intention behind Christ's satisfaction. If one speaks of Christ's death as being an infinite sacrifice intentionally *so that* there is a sufficient sacrifice for all (for whatever reason they want to speak), then they begin to tread on ice. Any position which argues that Christ died so that he might offer satisfaction sufficient for all, or so that he might purchase redemption for all if they should only but take it; any such position is over the line. If, however, one argues that the intention or impelling cause behind Christ's satisfaction pertains only to the elect (however sufficient that satisfaction might be on account of the dignity of Christ), then we are firmly within orthodoxy.

    As Owen keenly notes in ch. 2 of is Of the Death of Christ, the Price He Paid and the Purchase He Made:
    The value of any satisfaction in this business ariseth not from the innate worth of the things whereby it is made, but purely from God’s free constitution of them to such an end. A distinction cannot be allowed of more or less value in the things appointed of God for the same end; all their value ariseth merely from that appointment; they have so much as he ascribeth to them, and no more.​
    Thus, the intrinsic or infinite value of Christ's offering has no practical bearing on the issue, since it was appointed for a certain and fixed end, no more no less. The fact that it could have been sufficient for more does not impact us, apart from our maintaining the dignity of Christ.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2009
  5. Osage Bluestem

    Osage Bluestem Puritan Board Junior

    God could have created everything differently or saved everyone if that is what he would have chose to do so Aquinas and others are correct to acknowledge that God has the power to do that. However, he chose to only save those he chose to save, the elect, for the purpose of his good will.

    Ephesians 1:11 KJV
    [11] In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

    So, his sacrifice covered exactly the number of people he intended it to cover. He died in the place of his people and bore their transgressions.

    Isaiah 53:10-12 KJV
    [10] Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
    [11] He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
    [12] Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

    We know that God alone is truely good, so his decision in this regard is the best decision that could have been made.

    Mark 10:18 KJV
    [18] And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

    So it is good that the elect are elected and it is good that the reprobate are damned because that is the will of God.
  6. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    My understanding is that Ryle taught unlimited atonement.
  7. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Limited atonement does not negate an indefinite offer of the atonement to sinners of mankind. The salvation offered in the gospel is salvation by the atoning death of Jesus Christ. 1 John 2:2. I think alot of confusion would be avoided if this essential of the gospel were more consistently applied.
  8. ewenlin

    ewenlin Puritan Board Junior

    In his De aeterna Dei praedestinatione tract, Calvin writes

    I think P. L. Rouwendal is right when he says that

    For Rouwendal's treatment of Calvin on the atonement, see The Westminster Theological Journal, "Calvin's Forgotten Classical Position on the Extent of the Atonement: About Sufficiency, Efficiency, and Anachronism," Vol. 70, No. 2, Fall 2008, Westminster Theological Seminary: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 317-336.

    That's why I think Joshua is right. Why bring it up?
  9. TeachingTulip

    TeachingTulip Puritan Board Sophomore

    (Underlined emphasis, mine.)

    Indeed; the "all men" being those elect represented by a remnant chosen and saved out of all the nations. (Revelation 5:9; 7:9)
  10. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    This is one the reasons I stick with the terminology of "Limited Atonement" versus the language of "Definite" or "Particular" Atonement. It leaves less ambiguity.
  11. ewenlin

    ewenlin Puritan Board Junior

    I feel I have to qualify my previous post. To answer your question, the formula was widely accepted. I don't think it qualifies one as Amyraldian.

    However, Beza criticized this formula, specifically its language. The for in Sufficient for by it's sematic definition in latin would fix intent and application more so than in English. Anyone skilled in latin can confirm or refute this? Beza's the only one I know who really objected to this formula. I'm not that widely read though.

    We always understand the atonement in terms of God's design, intent, and scope.
  12. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes; the "pro" in "pro omnibus" carries the idea of "in behalf of," which is more easily associated with substitution. "For" in English is influenced by moral and governmental theories and conveys something less than a substitutionary idea.

    A brief comment on Calvin -- I don't believe he simply accepted the traditional sufficient and efficient understanding, but modifies it in a specific reformed direction. When all the data is examined, and Calvin's own views of election, salvation, church, and Christian life are accounted for, it is clear that Calvin limits atonement itself to the elect, but speaks more universally so far as the offer of the atonement in the gospel is concerned. His language reflects a process of development which culminates in the Dortian formula, creating ambiguity at times, but he generally taught what would later take a more systemic form in Calvinist theology.
  13. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    I love the fact of the Limited Atonement. It is a precious truth to me.
  14. Reformed Thomist

    Reformed Thomist Puritan Board Sophomore

    A couple of quotes from Ryle, for what it's worth (by way of the blog of our own Charlie Ray, Reasonable Christian):

    "Christ is an ALMIGHTY Savior, and a Savior for all mankind. He 'takes away the sin of the world'. He did not die for the Jews only, but for the Gentile as well as the Jew. He did not suffer for a few people only, but for all mankind. The payment that He made on the cross was more than enough to make satisfaction for the debts of all. The blood that He shed was precious enough to wash away the sins of all. His atonement on the cross was sufficient for all mankind, though efficient only to those who believe. The sin that He took up and bore on the cross was the sin of the whole world." (Comment on John 1:29)

    "Those men and women whom God has been pleased to choose from all eternity, He calls in time, by His Spirit working in due season. He convinces them of sin. He leads them to Christ. He works in them repentance and faith. He converts, renews, and sanctifies them. He keeps them by His grace from falling away entirely, and finally brings them safe to glory. In short, God’s eternal Election is the first link in that chain of a sinner’s salvation of which heavenly glory is the end. None ever repent, believe, and are born again, except the Elect. The primary and original cause of a saint’s being what he is, is eternal God’s election." (From Ryle's Election)
  15. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    A quick question:

    Do the facts that the object offered, and the priest presiding over the atonement were God in flesh mean that the atonement must therefore have an infinite value attached to it? For example, it appears that not all of God's acts are infinite, such as creation of the heavens and the earth.

    Or, does the difference between creation and redemption hinge on Christ's Person being offered, His person is infinite, therefore infinity was offered?

    I realize that this may be off of topic, but what is the relationship between Christ as a Divine Person, and Christ's death? In other words, I know that it is appropriate to speak of one Person dying on the cross, but is this properly attributed to the immortality of the God-Man?

  16. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    From Ryle's sermon on John 3:16, entitled, Do you Believe?

    This is unlimited atonement.
  17. ewenlin

    ewenlin Puritan Board Junior

    Side question for Rev. Winzer,

    How would you explain John 3:16?
  18. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    As it comes to bear on the issue of the atonement, where the word "world" is operative, I would understand it in the same way as John 1:29; "the world" is a redemptive-historical term which indicates God's salvific purpose for all peoples in contrast to Jewish particularity.
  19. toddpedlar

    toddpedlar Iron Dramatist Staff Member

    For Christ to have saved even one individual, His atonement would have required infinite worth, as the penalty even for one individual's sin (even if that one individual had sinned but once) is infinite. The worth of His atonement has nothing to do with how many individuals it is given for or are saved by it.
  20. Amazing Grace

    Amazing Grace Puritan Board Junior

    Ryle appears to be in line with fuller on the atonement. A theory I disagree with wholeheartedly. They deny the actual vicarious death of Christ in and of itself to redeem, instead speak of a provision for all, dependent solely of whom the Father elects. I may be splitting hairs, but this is Sovereign election, not limited atonement. They are two connected but distinct truths. It is basically a form of arminianism couched in reformed speak. The death of Christ is not a potential provision only to be enjoyed by whom are elected in eternity. It is a vicarious substitution.
  21. KaphLamedh

    KaphLamedh Puritan Board Freshman

    Well, I think I agree you Amazing Grace with that Ryle´s comment.
  22. ewenlin

    ewenlin Puritan Board Junior

    Sounds like governmental atonement..
  23. rbcbob

    rbcbob Puritan Board Graduate

    The governmental construct is not the problem. There are governmental and judicial dynamics involved in Christ's substitutionary atonement.

    The value of Christ's blood and of Christ's righteousness are no more in question than is Christ's Person. But this is how the waters always get muddied. We are not truly seeking to assess the value of Christ, we are seeking to rightly assess the measure of His suffering.

    J.L. Dagg, wrote in the early 19th century saying:

    The advocates of the hypothesis urge, that the atonement is moral, and not commercial; and they object, that the notion of so much suffering for so much sin, degrades it into a mere commercial transaction. … The argument is not conclusive. It is not true, that the principle of distributive justice repels the notion of so much suffering for so much sin. Justice has its scales in government, as well as in commerce; and an essential part of its administration consists in the apportionment of penalties to crimes. It does not account the stealing of herbs from a neighbor’s garden, and the murder of a father, crimes of equal magnitude; and it does not weigh out to them equal penalties.

    The justice of God has a heavier penalty for Chorazin and Bethsaida, than for Sodom and Gomorrah. Everything of which we have knowledge in the divine administration, instead of exploding the notion of so much suffering for so much sin, tends rather to establish it. The objection that it is commercial, is not well founded.

    Though justice in government, and justice in commerce, may be distinguished from each other, it does not follow, that whatever may be affirmed of the one, must necessarily be denied of the other. Distributive justice is not that which determines the equality of value, in commodities which are exchanged for each other: but it does not therefore exclude all regard to magnitudes and proportions.
    In the language of Scripture, sins are debts, the blood of Christ is a price, and his people are bought. This language is doubtless figurative: but the figures would not be appropriate, if commercial justice, to which the terms debt, price, bought, appertain, did not bear an analogy to the distributive justice which required the sacrifice of Christ. …

    The wisdom and justice of God have decided this single case, and have decided it right. Christ did endure just so much suffering, as would expiate the sins that were laid on him.
    The "Sufficient for all, Efficient for the elect" model has been in my opinion a weakness in some Calvinistic writers for many years.

    Some Calvinists, myself included, find more consistency in saying that it was only the sins of the elect that Christ bore. You shall call His name Jesus and He shall save HIS PEOPLE from their sins

    Several writers have articulated this view:

    “To say that his death is sufficient for everyone, but not that everyone receives forgiveness, is to say that God accomplishes the greater but not the lesser. He sets in motion a cause__the most powerful and compelling spiritual and moral cause conceivable__that does not consummate in an effect.
    As can be well seen, both streams of thought have a healthy and biblical concept of the relation of atonement to law. This understanding, that all legal obstacles to salvation have been removed, is right and cannot be surrendered. … To remove the necessary connection between atonement and satisfaction of the divine law denudes Christ’s death of all its moral sublimity and reduces it to an amazing piece of whimsical and romantic extravagance.” __Dr. Tom Nettles

    "While cheerfully admitting the sufficiency of Immanuel’s death to have redeemed all mankind, had all the sins of the whole human species been equally imputed to him; and had he, as the Universal Representative, sustained that curse of the law which was due to all mankind; yet we cannot perceive any solid reason to conclude, that his propitiatory sufferings are sufficient for the expiation of sins which he did not bear, or for the redemption of sinners whom he did not represent, as a sponsor, when he died on the cross. For the substitution of Christ, and the imputation of sin to him, are essential to the scriptural doctrtine of redemption by our adorable Jesus.--We may therefore, safely conclude that our Lord’s voluntary substitution, and redemption by his vicarious death, are both of them limited to those, for whom he was made SIN--for those whom he was made a CURSE--and for whose deliverance from final ruin, he actually paid the price of his OWN BLOOD. Consequently, that redemption is particular, and peculiar to the chosen of God."__Abraham Booth
  24. William Price

    William Price Puritan Board Freshman

    I wholly agree! :amen: Christ's death on the Cross was sufficient for all it was meant to be for. It is not a means, but part of the glorious end which is Christ. Limited atonement proves Christ to be the full and fulfilled Messiah of the Bible.
  25. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Do you think the interpretation of "world" as referring to the sinfulness of mankind (e.g. Romans 12:1) would also be tenable? I think it was Warfield that said something along these lines: John 3:16 refers to God's love not extensively, in terms of how "big" His love is to save so many people, but intensively, in terms of how "deep" His love is to save sinners.

    -----Added 11/15/2009 at 03:57:24 EST-----

    I want to make sure I understand what you are arguing for. Please correct me if this is a straw man:

    -Although all sins deserve infinite punishment, there are still degrees of punishment in hell.
    -Therefore, Christ would suffer different degrees of punishment depending on which sins He was covering (i.e., which sins the elect committed).
    -Therefore, since Christ's sacrifice was peculiar to the exact punishment afforded for the elect's sins, His sacrifice or passive obedience was not in fact sufficient for all. If God decreed ten sinners to be saved by Christ, and if He decreed those same ten plus one more, Christ's punishment would have been quantitatively different.
    -Therefore, as regards this actual world, Christ's sacrifice is sufficient and efficient only for the elect.

    (It could be argued that His active obedience would still be sufficient for all, but that's another topic.)

    Is that an accurate summary, Bob?
  26. rbcbob

    rbcbob Puritan Board Graduate

    Ben, I would edit that as follows:

    -Each and every sin against God deserves an ETERNAL, yet MEASURED punishment fitted particularly to that transgression.

    -Therefore, since Christ's sacrifice was peculiar to the exact punishment afforded for the elect's sins, His sacrifice or passive obedience was not in fact sufficient for sinners He did not represent and/or sins that were not laid on Him. If God decreed ten sinners to be saved by Christ, and if He decreed those same ten plus one more, Christ's punishment would have been quantitatively different.

    -Therefore, as regards this actual world, Christ's sacrifice is sufficient and efficient only for the elect.

    (It could be argued that His active obedience would still be sufficient for all, but that's another topic.)

    Christ was never more active than when He was taking the place of His people on the cross. John 10:18 "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. [εγω τιθημι αυτην] I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father."
  27. NRB

    NRB Puritan Board Freshman

    Hi I am new here and a new Presbyterian, but I must ask...HOW do we know the elect? I don't think we are privvy to I must in turn ask, HOW can we discuss this issue honestly.

    I know Limited Atonement, but it is a Truth in a system that applies to the elect alone, but who are the elect? Not our intention nor God's purpose for us to know.
    The atonement was certainly propitiation for all, yet isn't biblically applied to the entire human race. It can't be, for God wouldn't be Sovereign if it were for all until the end of time when there is sufficient proof of a human being on their death bed denying God in His entirety...had an uncle do that.

    Herein lies the confusion for those 4 pointers...and I was one before. ;)

    Anywho it's late and that's my 2 cents..or perhaps just 1 cent.

  28. Parsifal23

    Parsifal23 Puritan Board Freshman

    Jim Ellis wrote a really good article on this subject "Sufficient for All"- by Jim Ellis I don't know the language of efficient for the Elect only but sufficient for all is clumsy at best in my opinion and it can lead to pseudo Amraldyanism (Curt Daniel and David Ponter) or full blown Amradylanism (Richard Baxter) so when explained correctly "Sufficient for all" is not wrong but it leaves the door open to theological error so it would in my opinion be better to stick to the old Limited Atonement terminology if only for procession
  29. Amazing Grace

    Amazing Grace Puritan Board Junior

    I myself am more fond of "Particular Redemption".

    But then it would be T U P I P...
  30. rbcbob

    rbcbob Puritan Board Graduate

    Hi John,

    It is not necessary to the core issue of this discussion to know WHO the elect are, merely THAT they are.

    The discussion is over the merits of Christ’s substitutionary death relative to the elect as compared with the non-elect.
    These words typify the need for this discussion. If Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for sin was proptitious for all, then God’s wrath against all has been propitiated, assuaged.

    Aaron provided an excellent link in his post #30.
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