The Extent of the Atonement
Considering all the ground which has already been carefully gone over, there really ought to be no need for a separate discussion of this phase of our subject. The question, For whom did Christ make satisfaction—for whose sins did He atone? has been clearly anticipated and definitely answered in almost every aspect of our theme which has been before us. If we go back to the very foundation, namely, the everlasting covenant, there we find that the Father promised the Son a specific reward (Isaiah 53:10-12) upon His performance of the work assigned Him. The Son perfectly accomplished that work (John 17:4), therefore He must "see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied." If a single one of those for whom He died be not regenerated, justified, sanctified and glorified by God, then the Father's promise to His Son would be nullified.
The nature of Christ's satisfaction determines to a demonstration those who are the beneficiaries of it. First, it was a federal work. There was a legal oneness between Christ and those for whom He acted. The Savior stood as the Surety, and if a single one whose debts He paid receive not a full discharge from the law, then Divine justice would be reduced to a farce. Second, it was a substitutionary work. Christ acted not only on the behalf of, but in the stead of, those who had been given to Him by the Father; hence all whose sins He bore must of necessity have their sins remitted—God cannot punish twice, once the Substitute and then again the subject. Third, it was a penal work: every requirement of the law, both preceptive and punitive, was fulfilled by Christ, therefore all for whom He acted must receive the reward of His obedience, which is everlasting life. Fourth, it was a priestly work: His sacrifice being accepted by God, its efficacy and merits must be imputed to all those for
The design of Christ's satisfaction as made known in Scripture reveals its scope. To suppose that the greatest and grandest of all God's works was without design would be to be guilty of blasphemous thoughts. That design was framed by infinite wisdom, so that there can be no flaw or failure in it. That design is executed by omnipotence, so that it is impossible to thwart it. What that design was, has been shown (in part) in the 9th chapter of this series. It was not an indefinite and undefined one. Scripture has made known in plain and unmistakable terms that the mediatorial work of Christ was in order to God's being magnified, the God-man glorified, and God's elect saved. The eternal Son of God became incarnate in order to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
But without reviewing any further the preceding chapters, let us now say why we deem it expedient to devote a separate chapter to the more specific stating and proving of what has come before us previously in only a more or less incidental or subordinate way. It is because a right (Scriptural) view of this point is absolutely essential, if God is to be honored and Christ is to be glorified by us therein. The enmity of the Serpent against the Seed of the woman has been inveterate throughout the ages, and perhaps at no other one point has he so persistently attacked the glory of Christ. While it is impossible for Satan to either undo the finished work of the Savior, or to destroy any of its fruits, yet he is permitted to misrepresent it, and nowhere has his subtlety been more exercised and manifested than in the means employed here. He has indeed appeared as an "angel of light." His very attempts to discredit the satisfaction of Christ have been made under the guise of magnifying it, and that is why he has succeeded in getting many men reputed as "orthodox" to do some of his foul work for him.
Perhaps it will enable most of our readers to grasp more readily what we have just referred to in the above paragraph, if we frame the following questions. Which seems to have the greater tendency to exalt Christ: to say that He died because He desired and sought to make possible the salvation of all mankind or to say that He died only for God's elect, the "little flock"? Which seems to display the more His compassion for sinners? Which seems to bring out the more the value of His blood: to say that it avails only for the "few"? or to say that its merits are so infinite that every member of Adam's race would be redeemed did he or she put their trust in it? The very fact that every one of us would answer the question in the wrong way until we are taught aright from Scripture, not only evidences the worthlessness of carnal reasoning upon spiritual things, but also shows to what a terrible extent our minds have been poisoned by the venom of the Serpent. If it can yet be clearly shown that, in reality, the wider view actually dishonors Christ, then the consummate deceit and malice of the Devil therein should be plainly apparent.
Before exposing the futility of the above reasoning, let us prepare the way by giving other illustrations or examples of our inability to think aright where spiritual things are concerned. Does it not seem to us that a greater revenue of glory had accrued to God had sin never invaded His dominions and corrupted His creatures? Yet He deemed otherwise, or else He had not suffered it so to be. Again; does it not seem to the Christian, every Christian, that he could glorify God more in this present life if the sinful nature were eradicated from his being? Yet if this were so, God would take the "flesh" completely out of our beings when He regenerated us. And does it not seem to many a reader that he or she could accomplish more for Christ, if better health, different circumstances and surroundings, or more money, were given to them by God? And so we might continue. The fact is that the wisest Christian is utterly incapable of thinking rightly about Divine things until his thoughts ore formed by Scripture.
But coming now to a closer answering of the questions raised above. First, many imagine the glory of God is exceedingly exalted by affirming that He truly desires the salvation of every member of Adam's fallen race, and that they who teach that His free grace is restricted to the elect, grievously dishonor His benevolence. Now to maintain aright the glory of God we must speak in the language of His Word. Only that is glorious in God which He ascribes unto Himself. "Our inventions, though ever so splendid in our own eyes, are unto Him an abomination, a striving to pull Him down from His eternal excellency, to make Him altogether like unto us" (J. Owen). "God is dishonored by that honor which is ascribed to Him beyond His own prescription" (Jerome). To assign unto God anything which He has not assumed, is only to deify our own imaginations.
Many objects present a fair appearance when viewed at a distance, but their defects become apparent when examined at close quarters. So it is here. The assertion that God's design in sending His Son to this earth was that every sinner might be saved by Him, may at first glance seem to conduce unto the magnifying of His goodness and grace, but a little reflection thereon should quickly show the contrary. It certainly is not to the glory of God to suppose that the success of Christ's costly undertaking should be left contingent on the creature's will—that can never be the measure of His honor. And it certainly is not to the glory of God to suppose that He designed to save any that perish, for that would show His benevolent purpose was frustrated and would proclaim a disappointed and defeated Deity. The truth is that the glory of God's grace consists not in the number of objects to whom it is shown, but in its being free and undeserved, thus tending to lay the highest of all obligations on those who are concerned therein.
The fact is that those who advocate the scheme of a general redemption, are so far from magnifying the grace of God, that they, really, degrade both Divine grace and Christ's sacrifice. For according to their theory God has only provided a precarious salvation, which is offered to the caprice of man's acceptance, a mere possibility, which can only become actual through the sinner's compliance with certain conditions; a possibility, which when properly examined, is seen to be an impossibility. How vast the difference between a precarious salvation, and an infallible one! How immeasurably superior a redemption which secures the certain salvation of every one for whom it was made, and a suppositionary redemption which guarantees the salvation of none, leaving everything uncertain, dependent upon fickle man! How infinitely greater the glory which comes to God by that plan, through which grace efficaciously works in and applies the saving benefits to all for whom Christ died, than a method which would exalt the power of the creature and set the crown upon his free-will!
If it be still contended that we magnify the grace of God far more by proclaiming its universality rather than by insisting upon its particularity, by affirming that it extends to all mankind rather than to an elect remnant, then to carry out such an argument to its logical conclusion, we should be obliged to believe that God will save all, for He certainly will do that which is for His highest glory—this being the paramount consideration before Him in all that He does: see Psalm 29:9; Proverbs 16:4; Revelation 4:11. Moreover, such an argument would require, yes demand, that Divine grace be extended unto the fallen angels as well as to all mankind. Will men pretend to reflect on God's goodness because He has not extended His grace to all who might have been the objects of it had He so pleased? Has He not a right to do what He wills with His own?
Which exalts Christ the more? which demonstrates the more the value and efficacy of His atonement: that which effectually secures the actual salvation of every one for whom it was made? or that which ends in the great majority of those for whom He shed His precious blood being eternally punished in Hell? Surely none with any spiritual discernment can fail to see which view is more glorifying to the Redeemer. And if we call to mind the nature of His satisfaction, that it was a specific bearing of the sins of definite persons, that it was a paying of their debts, a suffering the law's curse in their stead, in order that they might go free; and when we remember that the Judge of all accepted this atonement, was satisfied with the price the Sponsor paid—then, where would be God's honor, His justice, His faithfulness, were He, notwithstanding, to yet punish millions of those for whom His Son bled and died? If Christ died for all men universally, then all men universally must be saved. There is not other possible alternative, except to say that God will punish twice, first in the person of the Surety.
We sincerely trust that neither writer no reader is lacking in compassion to his fellow-creatures, yet we must not allow our pity for men to lead us to adopt any principle which is dishonoring to the Divine perfections and subversive of Christ's satisfaction. Others may speak for themselves, but the writer would not dare to trust his salvation to a Savior who was unable to save those for whom He died. If it were true that Christ shed His blood for those who are now in Hell, what guarantee would be left me that I shall not go there? An atonement, that fails to atone, a sacrifice which fails to deliver, is worthless. To say that salvation is possible to all, if all would receive Christ, is to ignore those unequivocal words of the Savior in John 6:44, "No man can come to me except the Father which has sent me draw him." To say that salvation turns upon the sinner's own acceptance of Christ would be like offering a sum of money to a blind man upon the condition that he would see, or offering to ransom a prisoner on the proviso that he burst his way out of his steel-walled cell.
"Many divines say that Christ did something when He died that enabled God to be just and yet the Justifier of the ungodly. What that something is they do not tell us. They believe in an atonement made for everybody; but then, their atonement is just this; that Judas was atoned for as much as Peter, that the damned in Hell were as much an object of Jesus Christ's satisfaction as the saved in Heaven. Though they do not say it in proper words they must mean that, in the case of multitudes, Christ died in vain, for they say He died for all, and yet so ineffectual was His dying for them, that many are damned afterwards. Now, such an atonement I despise-I reject it. I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all for whom it was intended, than an universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be joined with it. Why, my brethren, if we were only so far atoned for by the death of Christ that any one of us might afterwards save himself, Christ's atonement were not worth a farthing, for there is no man of us can save himself—no, not under the Gospel" (C. H. Spurgeon on Isaiah 53:10).
But is not a true believing on the Lord Jesus Christ required in order to a receiving of God's great salvation? Certainly it is, but it is the office of the Holy Spirit to give saving faith to every one of those for whose sins Christ atoned. There is an infallible connection insured between the one and the other. The costly price of redemption was far too precious in the sight of God for it to be cast away on souls that perish. Therefore did He predestine that the Spirit should communicate life to all for whom Christ died. "Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:25): that is clear enough—all whose "offenses" Christ bore, must be "justified"! There are inseparable and saving benefits bestowed upon all them whom Christ loved and gave Himself for. "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:10): these go together, hence, as the greater part of men are not "saved" by His life, that is proof positive that they were not "reconciled by His death."
"Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. . . That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:13, 14): to each of those whom He redeemed, Christ gives His Spirit. "For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21): as inevitably as Christ was "made sin" for those for whom He died, so inevitably must those for whom He was made sin be "made the righteousness of God in him"! "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32): if God delivered up Christ for all mankind, then He will, He must to make good His word here, freely bestow (not "offer," but actually "give") repentance, faith and every spiritual blessing to all mankind. It is this sure and certain connection between Christ's purchase of salvation and the actual enjoyment thereof by those for whom it was wrought, which the advocates of a universal redemption lose sight of. Hear that prince of the Puritans, John Owen.
"Redemption is the freeing of a man from misery by the intervention of a ransom. Now, when a ransom is paid for the liberty of a prisoner, does not justice demand that he should have and enjoy the liberty so purchased for him by a valuable consideration? If I should pay a thousand pounds for a man's deliverance from bondage to him that detains him, who has power to set him free, and is contented with the price I give, were it not injurious to me and the poor prisoner that his deliverance be not accomplished? Can it possibly be conceived that there should be a redemption of men, and those men not redeemed? that a price should be paid, and the purchase not consummated? Yet all this must be made true, and innumerable other absurdities, if universal redemption be asserted. A price would be paid for all, yet few delivered; the redemption of all consummated, yet few of them redeemed; the judge satisfied, the jailer conquered, and yet the prisoners enthralled!"
The difference then, between truth and error on this vital subject, lies in the returning of scriptural answers to these questions: What was the purpose of God in the mission of Christ? Was it to make the salvation of all Adam's race possible? or was it to make the salvation of His own people certain? Was it simply to remove those "obstacles" which stood in the way of the Divine righteousness pardoning any one? or was it to remove the sins of those whom God had predestined unto eternal glory? Was it simply to "open a way" whereby sinners may approach unto the Holy One? or did Christ die the Just for the unjust that "He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18)? That the second of each of these alternatives is the true one, CONSIDER:
1. THE PURCHASE OF CHRIST
By the term "purchase" Scripture signifies that Christ meritoriously procured for His people the actual bestowment upon them of all those good things which He earned for them, which may be summed up under "life," "salvation," and an "eternal inheritance." Now these blessings were not purchased for His people "conditionally," but absolutely, just as when a surety pays a debt, the debtor is necessarily discharged, or as when a ransom is given for the redeeming of a captive, the captive must be freed. Christ's work was not of such a nature that the will of God is still conditional as to whether or not the reward of His satisfaction should be bestowed upon certain ones. No, He has absolutely obtained for His people peace with God and the remission of their sins, and that by purchasing for them that very faith with which they believe, appropriate and enjoy the salvation which He wrought out for them.
Scripture is most explicit in demonstrating that Christ's purchase and the Spirit's application of the purchased blessings have for their objects the same individuals: that for whoever Christ obtained any spiritual blessings by His death, unto them it shall most certainly be communicated. For whoever He wrought reconciliation with God, in them does He (by His Spirit) work reconciliation unto God. The one is not extended to any to whom the other does not reach. It is true that no sinner obtains any of the saving benefits of Christ's satisfaction until he repents and believes, but it is equally true that Christ has purchased these very graces for His people, and is now exalted on High to administer them: Acts 5:31, etc. The Scriptures perpetually conjoin together the benefits purchased by Christ and the benefits bestowed on those for whom they were purchased, so that we cannot sever the one from the other. "The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5): His chastisement and our peace, His wounding and our healing, are inseparably associated.
Thus the design of Christ's satisfaction is infallibly made known by the results of it. The intendment of God in the atonement is plainly evident through what is accomplished by it, for whatever He has purposed must be effected (Isaiah 46:10); hence, what is secured by the sacrifice of Christ makes manifest what God planned it should procure. "If there be anything plainly taught in Scripture, it is that the sacrifice of Christ was made for those only who shall eventually be saved by it. If the wisdom of men cannot reconcile this with their views of what is right, let them be prepared to dispute the matter with the Almighty in the day of Judgment" (Alexander Carson).
2. THE RECTITUDE OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER
God's justice indispensably requires that all the benefits of Christ's sacrifice should be imputed and imparted to every one for whom it was offered and accepted. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" A God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is He. The Supreme Being gives to every one his due. This principle cannot be violated in a single instance. He cannot, according to this, either remit sin without satisfaction, or punish sin where satisfaction for it has been received. The one is as inconsistent with perfect equity as the other. If the punishment for sin has been borne, the remission of the offense follows of course. The principles of rectitude suppose this, nay peremptorily demand it: justice could not be satisfied without it. Agreeably to this it follows that, the death of Christ being a legal satisfaction for sin, all for whom He died must enjoy the remission of their offenses.
"It is as much at variance with strict justice or equity that any for whom Christ has given satisfaction should continue under condemnation, as that they should have been delivered from guilt without satisfaction being given for them at all. But it is admitted that all are not delivered from the punishment of sin, that there are many who perish in final condemnation. We are therefore compelled to infer, that for such no satisfaction has been given to the claims of infinite justice—no atonement has been made. If this is denied, the monstrous impossibility must be maintained, that the infallible Judge refuses to remit the punishment of some for whose offenses He has received a full compensation; that He finally condemns some, the price of whose deliverance from condemnation has been paid to Him; that, with regard to the sins of some of mankind, He seeks satisfaction in their personal punishment after having obtained satisfaction for them in the sufferings of Christ; that is to say, that an infinitely righteous God takes double payment for the same debt, double satisfaction for the same offense, first from the Surety, and then from those for whom the Surety stood. It is needless to add that these conclusions are revolting to every right feeling of equity, and must be totally inapplicable to the procedure of Him who loves righteousness and hates wickedness" (W. Symington).
Christ made full satisfaction unto the law of God (Matthew 5:17; Galatians 4:4,5), but how could He have made satisfaction for the sins of those on whom the law will take satisfaction forever? How can the justice of God have been appeased in the case of those against whom its flaming sword will awake to all eternity? Christ expiated offenses (Romans 4:25), but how can those offenses for which the guilty perpetrators shall suffer endlessly, have been expiated? How did Christ redeem from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13) those who are to be kept in everlasting thraldom and misery? This scheme postulates a Savior of those who are never saved, a Redeemer of those who are never redeemed, a Deliverer of millions who are never delivered.
To reply to the above by saying that, Christ made a sufficient atonement for the sins of all men universally, but that many are not saved by it because they trust not in it, is to lose sight of the fact that half of the human race have never heard the Gospel, and so could not believe it! Whatever blame may rest upon Christians for their dilatoriness and selfishness, the Holy Spirit would most certainly have stirred up some to carry the glad tidings to those who have perished in heathen darkness had Christ purchased their salvation. To say otherwise would be rank blasphemy. The special mission of the Spirit is to apply the saving benefits of Christ's salvation to all for whom it was made. The One who is able to "raise up children" out of "stones" (Matthew 3:9) cannot be checkmated by the cold-heartedness of His people.
3. THE DECLARATIONS OF HOLY WRIT
As we have shown in previous chapters, the Satisfaction of Christ had its origin in the sovereign will of God, hence His mere good pleasure decided and determined who should be saved by it. A favored section of Adam's race were chosen to be its beneficiaries: herein, we behold the "goodness" of God. Fallen angels and the remainder of Adam's family were not to be redeemed by it, but were predestined to suffer the due reward of their iniquity: therein we behold the "severity of God" (Romans 11:22)! The same contrastive principles are adumbrated in the material creation: nature, no more than Scripture, knows anything of a God who is mighty to save and yet not mighty also to destroy—witness tidal waves, tornadoes, earthquakes, famines and pestilences.
In keeping with what has just been said, we find that Scripture divides mankind into two classes: the Church and the world, the "friends" of God and His "enemies," the "sheep" and the "goats." And let it be properly noted that whatever is affirmed distinctly of the one class, is implicitly denied of the other. Every assertion that Christ died for "His people," is a repudiation of the theory that He died for all mankind. Just as when it is said that a certain man toils to provide food for his family, no one is foolish enough to conclude that he is also laboring to provide food for all mankind; so when the Word declares that Christ "loved the Church and gave himself for it" (Ephesians 5:25), all should see that such discriminative language is meaningless, if He also loved and gave Himself for the entire human race.
"Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father which is in Heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out demons? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:21-23). Here a broad line of distinction is drawn between two classes of the human family, with respect to one of which the Savior makes the solemn affirmation, "I never knew you." The import of those words, according to Scripture usage, is too plain to be misunderstood; the antithetical "The Lord knows them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19), shows that He never had a saving cognizance of those to whom He shall say "depart from me."
"Our Lord speaking of those for whom He died, calls them sheep: 'I lay down my life for the sheep' (John 10:15). He explains who His sheep are by saying that they are such persons as 'hear his voice and follow him' (verses 3, 4), and He adds, 'I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.' Does it not plainly follow from His words that those for whom He died shall be saved, that He died for none but those upon whom the gift of faith should be bestowed? And does He not signify, by particularizing them as the persons for whom He laid down His life, that He did not die for others of an opposite character? If He died for all, there would be no meaning in saying that He died for His 'sheep,' because in this case there would be nothing peculiar to them, nothing by which they were distinguished from any other description of men" (J. Dick, 1850). To this we may add, the name "sheep" is synonymous with "elect," for such are "sheep" before they believe, yes, before they are born (see John 10:16); and that in this very same passage Christ affirmed there were some who are not His "sheep"—see 10:26.
"All whom the Father gives me shall come to me" (John 6:37): but this would not be true if the enmity of the carnal mind, the stubbornness of the unrenewed will, or the oppositions of Satan, were able successfully to resist the "drawing" (John 6:44) of the Father! Christ expressly said, "I pray not for the world" (John 17:9), therefore He died not for the world, for His sacrifice and His intercession have the same objects: (Romans 8:34). "Feed the Church of God which He has purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28): if the atonement be of universal extent, if Christ's blood be shed for all, then such discriminating language would not only be unnecessary, but altogether misleading. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28): no satisfactory reason can be given why Christ should say only "many" if all mankind were also included: cf. Hebrews 9:28. "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14): those for whom Christ died are "a peculiar people," and not the whole Adamic race indiscriminately.
Those passages which are appealed to by those who advocate the doctrine of universal redemption will now be carefully considered.
That aspect of our subject which is now before us has been a vexing question among theologians, especially so during the last century, for Christ's death for God's people only was never denied until the basic truth of Election was rejected; and that rejection only became common about one hundred and fifty years ago. Were it not so vitally important that we should be quite clear about this branch of our theme, we should avoid the discussion of it as too controversial. But inasmuch as the extent of the Atonement depends upon its nature, and directly concerns the honor of God and the glory of His Son, we feel called upon to give our best attention to the same.
Previously we endeavored to present some of the evidences which prove that the atonement of Christ was a real one, a definite one, an efficacious one, that whatever it was designed to effect must be accomplished. Appeal too was made to some of those Scriptures which expressly make known for whom Christ died, namely, His "Church," His "people," the "sheep." Yet clear and plain, full and frequent, as are the declarations of Holy Writ concerning the purpose and design of God in the death of Christ, so that he who runs ought to be able to read, yet, scarcely any truth of Scripture is now more frequently called into question than is this one. A theory diametrically opposed thereto has been advanced by the enemies of the Truth, and, sad to say, is now being promulgated by many who imagine they are the friends of Christ—as to whether or not they are, God alone can infallibly determine.
On practically every side where there is any pretense of honoring Christ today, it is taught that the love of God extends to all mankind, that Christ gave Himself a ransom for the whole human race, and that the Holy Spirit is now seeking to woo and win every sinner to Him. So uniform has this preaching become, so fervently has it been advocated, so widely has it been accepted, that for any one to affirm the contrary, is to be looked upon as a setter forth of "novelties," and for him to press the same, is to invite his being denounced as a narrow-minded and harsh-hearted bigot, a heretic of the worst sort. Yet such an one can always console himself with, "If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
Before we turn and examine those passages which are appealed to by those who proclaim a universal redemption, three things should be carefully considered. First, since all of Adam's race are not pardoned and saved, and never will be, then Christ cannot have made an atonement for their sins: this was shown at length in our last chapter. Second, the Holy Scriptures cannot contradict themselves. Being the inspired Word of God, there cannot be any inconsistencies in them: they cannot teach that Christ died for God's elect only, and also affirm that He died for all mankind as well: one or the other is an erroneous deduction which men have drawn from them. Third, seeing they explicitly teach the former, then there must be some honest and legitimate way of interpreting those passages which may, at first glance, seem to teach the latter.
Now the Word of God does not yield up its meaning to lazy people. Salvation is free; but "Truth" has to be "bought" (Proverbs 23:23); yet few indeed are willing to pay its stipulated price. Not only do the Scriptures have to be "searched" (John 5:39), and searched "daily" (Acts 17:11); not only does passage have to be carefully compared with passage (1 Corinthians 2:13); not only must all this be done in meekness (Psalm 25:9) and complete dependency upon God (Proverbs 3:6); but there must be a fervent crying "after knowledge" and an importunate "lifting up of the voice for understanding," and seeking her "as silver" (which entails hard labor and diligent perseverance), yes, a searching for her as for "hid treasure" (Proverbs 2:1-5).
It is at the above point that so many have failed. The meaning of God's Word cannot be ascertained as easily as can that of a newspaper article, nor can any enter into the "mystery of the Gospel" (Ephesians 6:19) as readily as one may solve a problem in mathematics. If a person approaches Holy Writ with prejudice, his mind is closed against its teachings. If he regards any passage as plain and simple and is satisfied that he already understands it, he is not likely to cry unto God for or receive light from it. If he assumes that he is now in possession of practically all that the Bible teaches on a subject (contrary to 1 Corinthians 8:2), or blindly follows some man unto whom he credits the same thing, then God will take the wise in their own craftiness (1 Corinthians 3:19) and suffer them to remain in darkness. It is because of this that so many are misled by the mere sound of certain words.
Our last statement has received many a solemn illustration. Take the controversy which has been waged in certain quarters as to whether or not man remains in a state of consciousness after he passes out of this world. How many who deny that he does so, have appealed to such passages as "the dead praise not the Lord" (Psalm 115:17), "the dead know not anything" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). But the matter cannot be settled so easily. Those passages must be studied in the light of their contexts, the dispensation under which they were given, and then interpreted in harmony with other passages of a different, but not conflicting, nature. Take again the great controversy between the Reformers on transubstantiation: how easy it was to be deceived by the mere sound of those words, "This is my body!" The same principle applies to our present subject. This issue cannot be settled by an appeal to such words as "God so loved the world" and Christ "died for all" (2 Corinthians 5:15). Such expressions need to be studied and interpreted in keeping with the Analogy of Faith.
Incalculable damage has been wrought by unequipped men undertaking to preach the "simple (?) Gospel" and expound the Holy Scripture. There has been a zeal which was not proportioned with spiritual knowledge. Men with the merest smattering of Scripture consider themselves qualified to pass judgment on the teachings and writings of those who have devoted a lifetime to the continuous and concentrated study of God's Word. To a multitude of evangelists and preachers of today, we would say, "O that you would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom" (Job 13:5). Rightly has it been said, "Modern theology is largely based upon the sound rather than the sense of Scripture. And it is an everyday practice for men to expound texts who cannot even quote—much less expound—the contexts" (J.M. Sangar). "Not a novice" (1 Timothy 3:6) has been deliberately ignored, and "Be not many of you teachers" (Jam. 3:1, R. V.) has been defiantly disobeyed.
When men say that God has provided an atonement which is designed for all mankind, they need to be asked, Do you mean that Christ's sacrifice procured for all sinners that quickening grace of the Holy Spirit which is indispensably needed to bring men to a cordial and saving reception of the atonement? Do you mean that an atonement has been made by Christ so as to infallibly secure that all shall be saved by it? If so, be honest, and declare yourself a "Universalist." But if you do not mean this, then cease using empty words which can only deceive souls and dishonor Christ. The real issue is not so much upon the scope of the atonement, as it is upon the efficacy of it!
Let us now briefly set forth that position which is popularly maintained in these degenerate times. We are told that there is such a fullness in the atonement, that the value of Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the entire race, were all men to believe in Him. But this means that the sufficiency of the atonement is a conditional one—conditional upon the whole world believing. But that "condition" is not so easily performed. Almost all preachers today speak of faith in Christ as a comparatively easy matter, but the Scriptures teach quite otherwise: see Matthew 19:25,26; John 5:44; 6:44; Ephesians 1:19; 1 Peter 4:18. The Word of God represents the fallen children of Adam as being spiritually bound with chains, shut up in death, securely held in prison, so that nothing short of a miracle of grace, the putting forth of Divine omnipotence can free them. In his masterly treatise on "Particular Redemption" W. Rushton (1831) illustrated this conditional sufficiency of the atonement thus:
"A wealthy and philanthropic individual visits Algiers and approaches a dungeon in which a wretched captive lies bound with chains and fetters, and strongly secured within walls and doors and bars. He proclaims aloud to the captive that he has brought gold sufficient for a ransom, on condition that the captive will liberate himself from his chains, burst open his prison doors and come forth. Alas, exclaims the wretched man, your kindness does not reach my case. Unless your gold can effect my deliverance, it can be of no service to me. To offer it on such terms can do me no good. Now man by nature is spiritually as unable to believe in Christ, as the Algerian captive is physically unable to break his chains and the prison doors; so that all this boasted sufficiency of the atonement is only an empty offer of salvation on certain terms and conditions; and such an atonement would be much too weak to meet the desperate case of a lost sinner.
"But how different is the salvation of God! 'By the blood of your covenant, I have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water' (Zechariah 9:11). The Lord Jesus, by His death, has paid the ransom, and made the captive His own. Therefore He has a legal right to their persons, and with His own right arm He brings them forth. It is His glory 'to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house' (Isaiah 42:6,7)." Yes, Scripture affirms that "He sent [not 'offered!'] redemption unto his people" (Psalm 111:9).
Turning now to the principal passages to which holders of this view, appeal, let us begin with John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son," etc. To a superficial mind this declaration appears to settle the controversy once for all. We do not use that term "superficial" in any invidious sense, but common honesty will not allow us to substitute another for it. Anyone who has examined a concordance and looked up the passages where "world" occurs, soon discovers that this word is used in the New Testament in quite a number of ways and with widely different latitudes, so that nothing can be determined for certain by the occurrence of this term in John 3:16. Sometimes the "world" signifies the unbelieving as in John 15:18, in others it includes none but believers as in Romans 11:12, etc. Sometimes the "world" denotes the material system, created by Christ (John 1:10), in others it is applied to a mere handful of people as in John 7:4 and 12:19. In the great majority of instances it is a general and indefinite expression which has reference to the Gentiles in contradistinction from Israel after the flesh.
Now it is a fundamental and unvarying rule of interpretation that both definite and indefinite phrases or terms must be understood and defined in strict accordance with the subject about which they are employed. So it is with John 3:16. The subject of that verse is the love of God, to which the indefinite expressions "world" and "whoever" are joined. Therefore, if we would discover to a certainty who are the objects of God's love, we have to diligently compare and examine other, passages where the love of God is mentioned. Then we learn that His love is eternal: Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 1:4,5. That it is uninfluenced. Nothing in its object calls it into exercise, prompts or attracts it (Deuteronomy 7:7,8): it proceeds simply from the spontaneous will of God. It is immutable or unchanging (Song of Sol. 8:6,7). Those whom God loves, He loves forever (John 13:1), nothing can ever separate from it, nothing can ever cause God to cease loving those on whom He set His love (Romans 8:35-38). It is sovereign (Romans 9:13): there was no more cause in Jacob why he should be the object of the Divine love, than there was in Esau.
The love of God is known by its manifested effects. There is an infallible connection (as there is between cause and effect) between the love of God and His ordination of its objects to life and salvation: hence we read, "We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation" (2 Thessalonians 2:13). So also, those whom God loves, He regenerates. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1)- making them "sons" is the certain effect of His having loved them from all eternity. Those whom God loves, He "draws" to Himself (Jeremiah 31:3). Those whom God loves, He "chastens" (disciplines) so that they become actual partakers of his holiness" (Hebrews 12:6, 10). It therefore follows that those who are not made His "sons," who are not made "partakers of his holiness," were never the objects of His love.
The same love of God which was the cause of sending Christ to die for the salvation of His people, is also the same cause which "freely gives" all things with Christ (Romans 8:32), that is, the Spirit to regenerate, faith to receive Him, love to be devoted to Him: compare 2 Peter 1:3. Were it otherwise, God's love would be incomplete, inadequate, deficient, unefficacious. God's love for me would be vain, if it did not actually save me, deliver me, and win my heart to Him. John 3:16 simply states that design of God's love, and that is, that all who believe in Christ should be saved by Him, which believers, in their unbelieving state, are found "scattered abroad" (John 11:52) throughout the earth, among the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
The popular interpretation of John 3:16 is repudiated by all the facts of history. First, take the history of the human race before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died "without God and without hope" (Psalm 9:17). If God "loved" them, where is the least evidence of it? He "suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16). He "gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28). He announced to Israel "you only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). Second, take the history of the race since Christ was born. Remember the "dark ages" which lasted not for a few days, but for a thousand years, when the Papacy dominated almost all Christendom and the Bible was withheld from the peoples. And since the great Reformation, what untold millions have died in heathendom without ever hearing of Christ! It would be inexplicably strange if God should "love" multitudes to whom He never so much as signified His love—leaving them in entire ignorance of the Son of His love! Third, take the coming Day of Judgment. To whom will God's love then be exercised?
To sum up our comments on John 3:16. We understand "the world" here to mean men of all nations, with an especial reference to the Gentiles, whom Nicodemus (as all Jews) considered to be accursed. To those who reject this explanation, and say, We keep by the plain declaration "God so loved the world," we ask them to apply the same principle to the following passages: "on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:45), "God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18), "declaring the conversion of the Gentiles" (Acts 15:3). Is that expression "the Gentiles" in these passages a general and indefinite one, or a universal and specific one? is it a relative or an absolute one? That is, does it take in all, or refer only to some? Acts 15:44 answers the question: "God has visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name!"
The last clause of 2 Peter 3:9 is frequently quoted, but without any attention being given to the first part of it. Is that honest? The "any" whom the Lord is "not willing" should perish, is clearly defined: verse 8 shows that it is God's "beloved" who are here addressed and referred to. The "promise" which He is "not slack" in fulfilling, has reference to the return of Christ (v. 4), which "scoffers" (v. 3) suppose will never be fulfilled. The great reason why God has not yet sent back His Son is because the last of His elect have not been regenerated: all of them shall come to repentance before human history can be wound up and verse 10 fulfilled. Thus, the "any" looks back to the "us-ward" in the previous part of the verse!
"Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). John the Baptist was the herald of a new dispensation. One of the leading distinctions between the Old and New Testament dispensations was with regard to its scope. The former was greatly restricted, being, for two thousand years, almost exclusively confined to a single nation; and to that limitation the members of the Church had become thoroughly accustomed. But the new dispensation possessed an opposite character. At the cross, the "middle wall of partition," by which the Jews were kept separate from all other nations, was broken down, so that henceforth there should be no difference between Jew and Gentile, bond and free. But the previous regime had given rise to a deeply-seated prejudice in favor of exclusive privilege, which it was no easy matter to uproot.
Although the Savior had manifested a regard for a Roman centurion, a woman of Samaria, and had even plainly declared "other sheep I have which are not of this fold" (John 10:16), still the exclusive sentiment retained a firm hold even upon the minds of His disciples. They were Jews, and were manifestly reluctant to descend to a common level with others, in regard to the enjoyment of religious privilege. Clear proof of this is seen in the case of Peter (Acts 10:14): God had to work a miracle before he was willing to preach the Gospel to Cornelius. The jealous antipathy of the Jews comes out even more noticeably in 1 Thessalonians 2:15, 16. This one consideration accounts for and throws much light upon the use of terms of an extensive import when speaking of the new economy. To mark the contrast from Judaism, the strongest language that could be used became necessary: hence the employment of "the world" and "all men" to denote men in general without regard to national distinction.
From what has been said above, it is not to be surmised that the Holy Spirit moved men to employ language which was not strictly true or accurate. Far from it. Nothing is more common, either in the writings of men or in the Word of God, than to use a general designation when it is intended to express a general principle, but which does not include every individual comprehended in the general designation employed. When we read that a certain city is smitten with a small-pox epidemic, no one concludes that every individual in it has contracted that disease. So when we read in Exodus 9:6 that "all the cattle of Egypt died," we must not take those words absolutely, as Exodus 9:9,19,25 plainly show.
A critical examination of the terms of John 1:29 obliges us to take into account the undeniable fact that a very considerable portion of the human race was already in Hell when the Son of God became incarnate. This one consideration is sufficient to show that we are compelled to understand that the "world" here is far less extensive in its scope than the whole human family. Again, that Christ did not "take away the sin of," bear the guilt of, suffer for, the iniquities of all alive on earth in His own day, is abundantly clear from His own words to the Pharisees, "You shall die in your sins" (John 8:24 and cf. 9:41). The best commentary upon John 1:29 is the song of the redeemed, "You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Rev. 5:9)!
"Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Timothy 2:6). What has been said above concerning the signification of the term "world" when used in connection with the objects of God's love or the subjects of Christ's redemption, applies with equal force and pertinency to the word "all." That Christ gave Himself a ransom for "all" without distinction of nationality, social status, age or gender, is blessedly true; but to say that He died in the stead of "all" without exception cannot be maintained without involving the most palpable absurdities and contradictions. Nor is there anything elsewhere in Scripture which obliges us to give to "all" in this and similar verses an absolute and unlimited meaning.
The word "all" is employed in Scripture with considerable latitude and variety of meaning; very rarely indeed is it used without limitation. Mark 1:5 says that "all the land of Judea and they of Jerusalem were all baptized" of John, yet Luke 7:30 shows the Pharisees and lawyers were "not baptized of him." When the Savior told His disciples that "you shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" Matthew 10:22), it is obvious that those who believed on Him must be excluded. When we read that "all men came unto" Christ (John 3:26), we can only understand that many of the Jews attended upon His ministry. When Christ declared He would "draw all unto" Himself (John 12:32), He had in mind the "all that the Father gives me" of John 6:37. So here in 1 Timothy 2:6 the "ransom for all" is defined by the "ransom for many" of Matthew 20:28. The "all" of 1 Timothy 2:4 and 6 is simply emphasizing the contrast from the Jewish nation only.
1 John 2:2. Here again many have been deceived by the mere sound of terms. The very first word of this verse shows that Christ is the "atoning sacrifice " of those only for whom He is an "Advocate with the Father," and John 17:9 proves that He prays for none but the elect. Again, if the closing words of this verse expressed an unlimited universality, then the previous clause would be quite superfluous: if the "whole world" takes in all the race, then it would be meaningless to say that Christ is the atoning sacrifice "for our sins" and also for every body's—the "our" would be included. Instead, the "our" refers to Jewish Christians, for John was an apostle to the "circumcision" (Galatians 2:9) and his epistle was written (first) to such (see 2:7); the "whole world" signifies God's elect scattered among the Gentiles. Romans 3:25 shows that Christ's "atoning sacrifice " is limited to those who put their faith in it.
Scripture always interprets Scripture: if the reader really desires to know the meaning of 1 John 2:2 let him compare John 11:51,52 and 17:20, carefully noting the "also." That this expression the "whole world" is not an unlimited one, is clear from the last clause of Revelation 13:3, compared with Revelation 20:4; or Revelation 12:9 with Matthew 24:24. To affirm that Christ shed His blood for the sins of all mankind, is to be guilty of charging Him with rebellion against the sovereign will of God. But how far from the truth is such a concept! "Every part of our Lord's conduct on earth was an act of obedience to the Father's will (John 6:38). How then could He lay down His life for any but those who were given Him of the Father to be redeemed from among men? Had He laid down His life for all mankind, He would have gone beyond His commission" (James Haldane).
It remains to be pointed out that there is a (relative) universality to Christ's sacrifice in three respects. First, in time: its efficacy was not limited to one generation or dispensation. Being "foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20), His merits extended to all believers from Abel onwards. Second, in place: the efficacy of Christ's death was not to be limited to any one nation: Revelation 5:9. Third, in virtue: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Christ's sacrifice made atonement for Noah's drunkenness, Lot's incest, David's murder, Peter's denial, Paul's persecution of the Church. In these three respects there is no limitation to His sacrifice.
Luke 19:41-44. Christ's weeping over Jerusalem is often regarded as His lamentation over lost sinners. Such was not the case. Verses 43, 44 show plainly that He had before Him the destruction of the city. As He foresaw the awful siege and contemplated the unparalleled temporal calamities, He was deeply moved. As a nation, the doom of the Jews was sealed: the things belonging to their civic peace were now hid from their eyes. But so far from their spiritual state being hopeless, or Christ bewailing that He knew full well that in a few weeks at most thousands of them would believe to the saving of their souls!
Space will only allow us to notice briefly a few more texts. The "all men" of Romans 5:18 is explained by 1 Corinthians 15:22. 1 Corinthians 8:11 asks a question, not states a fact: it warns against the evil tendency of uncharitable conduct. The "all" for whom Christ died (2 Corinthians 5:15) are in that same verse said to "live unto. . . him which died for them." The "world" of 2 Corinthians 5:19 are those unto whom God is "not imputing their trespasses," and that is certainly not the "world of the ungodly" (2 Peter 2:5). The "living God" of 1 Timothy 4:10 is the Father (see Matthew 16:16), and "Savior" there means Preserver—in a temporal way. Christ "tasted death for every" (Hebrews 2:9): there is no word for "man" in the Greek, and the next verse shows it is "every" son. That some whom the Lord "bought" (2 Peter 2:1) shall be damned, presents no difficulty: He bought "the field" (Matthew 13:43,44), but "redeemed" only His people; as Man (Acts 17:31) He has acquired the right to judge and dispose of all.
To reason as some have done from the second half of Hebrews 9:26 that Christ made atonement for no man's sins in particular, but only for sin in general, is really too puerile for serious consideration. Yet this is what is being taught in many places today. The Cross is looked upon as little more than an honoring of the moral government of God, a satisfying of His justice abstractly considered. Such a theory involves this absurdity: that Christ died not for sinners, but for sin. Sufficient to point out in refutation that "sin" has no existence apart from sinners! Sin is not a mere non-entity, or metaphysical abstraction, but a moral agent to which it belongs. Separate sin from sinners and it ceases to be. Surely the Son of God died for something else than a mere abstraction!
To say that in the atonement of Christ God has laid a sufficient and suitable basis for the salvation of all men, if so be they would avail themselves of it, may sound very plausible, yet is it, in reality, meaningless jargon. Such an assertion ignores the eternal and sovereign election of the Father. It dissevers the work of the Spirit from the work of Christ. It repudiates the lost condition of man. While professing to widen the extent of the atonement, it compromises its reality and efficacy. To say that everything turns on the sinner's acceptance, is to affirm that Christ did nothing more for those who are saved than He did for those who are lost. It is not faith which gives Divine efficacy to the blood; it was the blood which efficaciously purchased faith. To make the eternal salvation of sinners turn upon an act of their own wills, would not only be leaving the success of the redemptive work of Christ, contingent upon the fickle caprice of men, but would allow them to divide the honors with Christ!
To talk of God's "offering assistance to sinners" while He leaves them in a state of un-regeneracy, is the truest trifling. To say that Christ died for all the sins of all who hear the Gospel, and that the only thing which can now damn them is their unbelief, is to fly in the face of Ephesians 5:5, 6, etc. Moreover, such a statement is, really, a contradiction in terms. Either their unbelief is a sin, or it is not. If not, then why are they punished for it? If it be, then, according to their own affirmation, Christ atoned for it, and there is nothing more in their unbelief than there is in their other sins to hinder them from partaking of the fruits of Christ's sacrifice. Let such choose which horn of the dilemma they please.
Seeing that Christ died for the elect only, how is the Gospel to be preached to sinners indiscriminately? This question will be carefully considered and answered at length in a following chapter.
THE MEANING OF "KOSMOS" IN JOHN 3:16
It may appear to some of our readers that the exposition we have given of John 3:16 in the chapter on "Difficulties and Objections" is a forced and unnatural one, inasmuch as our definition of the term "world" seems to be out of harmony with the meaning and scope of this word in other passages, where, to supply the world of believers (God's elect) as a definition of "world" would make no sense. Many have said to us, "Surely, 'world' means world, that is, you, me, and everybody." In reply we would say: We know from experience how difficult it is to set aside the "traditions of men" and come to a passage which we have heard explained in a certain way scores of times, and study it carefully for ourselves without bias Nevertheless, this is essential if we would learn the mind of God.
Many people suppose they already know the simple meaning of John 3:16, and therefore they conclude that no diligent study is required of them to discover the precise teaching of this verse. Needless to say, such an attitude shuts out any further light which they otherwise might obtain on the passage. Yet, if anyone will take a Concordance and read carefully the various passages in which the term "world" (as a translation of "kosmos") occurs, he will quickly perceive that to ascertain the precise meaning of, the word "world" in any given passage is not nearly so easy as is popularly supposed. The word "kosmos," and its English equivalent "world," is not used with a uniform significance in the New Testament. Very far from it. It is used in quite a number of different ways. Below we will refer to a few passages where this term occurs, suggesting a tentative definition in each case:
1. "Kosmos" is used of the Universe as a whole: Acts 17:24—"God that made the world and all things therein seeing that He is Lord of Heaven and earth."
2. "Kosmos" is used of the earth: John 13:1; Ephesians 1:4, etc., etc.- "When Jesus knew that his hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world He loved them unto the end." "Depart out of this world" signifies, leave this earth. "According as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world." This expression signifies, before the earth was founded--compare Job 38:4 etc.
3. "Kosmos" is used of the world-system: John 12:31 etc. "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the Prince of this world be cast out"-- compare Matthew 4:8 and 1 John 5:19, R. V.
4. "Kosmos" is used of the whole human race: Romans 3:19, etc.--"Now we know that whatever things the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."
5. "Kosmos" is used of humanity minus believers: John 15:18; Romans 3:6 "If the world hate you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you." Believers do not "hate" Christ, so that "the world" here must signify the world of unbelievers in contrast from believers who love Christ. "God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world." Here is another passage where "the world" cannot mean "you, me, and everybody," for believers will not be "judged" by God, see John 5:24. So that here, too, it must be the world of unbelievers which is in view.
6. "Kosmos" is used of Gentiles in contrast from Jews: Romans 11:12 etc. "Now if the fall of them (Israel) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them (Israel) the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their (Israel's) fullness." Note how the first clause in italics is defined by the latter clause placed in italics. Here, again, "the world" cannot signify all humanity for it excludes Israel!
7. "Kosmos" is used of believers only: John 1:29; 3:16, 17; 6:33; 12:47; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 5:19. We leave our readers to turn to these passages, asking them to note, carefully, exactly what is said and predicated of "the world" in each place.
Thus it will be seen that "kosmos" has at least seven clearly defined different meanings in the New Testament. It may be asked, Has then God used a word thus to confuse and confound those who read the Scriptures? We answer, No! nor has He written His Word for lazy people who are too dilatory, or too busy with the things of this world, or, like Martha, so much occupied with "serving," they have no time and no heart to "search" and "study" Holy Writ! Should it be asked further, But how is a searcher of the Scriptures to know which of the above meanings the term "world" has in any given passage? The answer is: This may be ascertained by a careful study of the context, by diligently noting what is predicated of "the world" in each passage, and by prayer fully consulting other parallel passages to the one being studied. The principal subject of John 3:16 is Christ as the Gift of God. The first clause tells us what moved God to "give" His only begotten Son, and that was His great "love;" the second clause informs us for whom God "gave" His Son, and that is for, "whoever (or, better, 'every one') believes;" while the last clause makes known why God "gave" His Son (His purpose), and that is, that everyone that believes "should not perish but have everlasting life." That "the world" in John 3:16 refers to the world of believers (God's elect), in contradistinction from "the world of the ungodly" (2 Peter 2:5), is established, unequivocally established, by a comparison of the other passages which speak of God's "love." "God commends His love toward US"--the saints, Romans 5:8. "Whom the Lord loves He chastens"--every son, Hebrews 12:6. "We love Him, because He first loved US"--believers, 1 John 4:19. The wicked God "pities" (see Matthew 18:33). Unto the unthankful and evil God is "kind" (see Luke 6:35). The vessels of wrath He endures "with much long-suffering" (see Romans 9:22). But "His own" God "loves"!!
THE MEANING OF 1 JOHN 2:2
There is one passage more than any other which is appealed to by those who believe in universal redemption, and which at first sight appears to teach that Christ died for the whole human race. We have therefore decided to give it a detailed examination and exposition.
"And He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). This is the passage which, apparently, most favors the Arminian view of the Atonement, yet if it be considered attentively it will be seen that it does so only in appearance, and not in reality. Below we offer a number of conclusive proofs to show that this verse does not teach that Christ has propitiated God on behalf of all the sins of all men.
In the first place, the fact that this verse opens with "and" necessarily links it with what has gone before. We, therefore, give a literal word for word translation of 1 John 2:1 from Bagster's Interlinear: "Little children my, these things I write to you, that you may not sin; and if any one should sin, a Paraclete we have with the Father, Jesus Christ (the) righteous". It will thus be seen that the apostle John is here writing to and about the saints of God. His immediate purpose was two-fold: first, to communicate a message that would keep God's children from sinning; second, to supply comfort and assurance to those who might sin, and, in consequence, be cast down and fearful that the issue would prove fatal. He, therefore, makes known to them the provision which God has made for just such an emergency. This we find at the end of verse 1 and throughout verse 2. The ground of comfort is twofold: let the downcast and repentant believer (1 John 1:9) be assured that, first, he has an "Advocate with the Father"; second, that this Advocate is "the atoning sacrifice for our sins". Now believers only may take comfort from this, for they alone have an "Advocate", for them alone is Christ the atoning sacrifice , as is proven by linking the Atoning sacrifice ("and") with "the Advocate"!
In the second place, if other passages in the New Testament which speak of "atoning sacrifice ," be compared with 1 John 2:2, it will be found that it is strictly limited in its scope. For example, in Romans 3:25 we read that God set forth Christ "a atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood". If Christ is a atoning sacrifice "through faith", then He is not a "atoning sacrifice " to those who have no faith! Again, in Hebrews 2:17 we read, "To make atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17, R. V.).
In the third place, who are meant when John says, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins"? We answer, Jewish believers. And a part of the proof on which we base this assertion we now submit to the careful attention of the reader.
In Galatians 2 :9 we are told that John, together with James and Cephas, were apostles "unto the circumcision" (that is Israel). In keeping with this, the Epistle of James is addressed to "the twelve tribes, which are scattered abroad" (1:1). So, the first Epistle of Peter is addressed to "the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion" (1 Pet.1:1, R. V.). And John also is writing to saved Israelites, but for saved Jews and saved Gentiles.
Some of the evidences that John is writing to saved Jews are as follows.
(a) In the opening verse he says of Christ, "Which we have seen with our eyes . . . . and our hands have handled". How impossible it would have been for the Apostle Paul to have commenced any of his epistles to Gentile saints with such language!
(b) "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning" (1 John 2 :7). The "beginning" here referred to is the beginning of the public manifestation of Christ--in proof compare 1:1; 2:13, etc. Now these believers the apostle tells us, had the "old commandment" from the beginning. This was true of Jewish believers, but it was not true of Gentile believers.
(c) "I write unto you, fathers, because you have known Him from the beginning" (2:13). Here, again, it is evident that it is Jewish believers that are in view.
(d) "Little children, it is the last time: and as you have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us" (2:18, 19).
These brethren to whom John wrote had "heard" from Christ Himself that Antichrist should come (see Matthew 24). The "many antichrists" whom John declares "went out from us" were all Jews, for during the first century none but a Jew posed as the Messiah. Therefore, when John says "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins" he can only mean for the sins of Jewish believers. 16
In the fourth place, when John added, "And not for ours only, but also for the whole world", he signified that Christ was the atoning sacrifice for the sins of Gentile believers too, for, as previously shown, "the world" is a term contrasted from Israel. This interpretation is unequivocally established by a careful comparison of 1 John 2:2 with John 11:51,52, which is a strictly parallel passage: "And this spoke he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad". Here Caiaphas, under inspiration, made known for whom Jesus should "die". Notice now the correspondence of his prophecy with this declaration of John's:
1 John 2:2 "He is the propitiation for our (believing Israelites) sins".
John 11:51, 52. "He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation".
1 John 2:2. "And not for ours only".
John 11:51, 52. "And not for that nation only".
1 John 2:2. "But also for the whole world"--That is, Gentile believers scattered throughout the earth.
John 11:51, 52. "He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad".
In the fifth place, the above interpretation is confirmed by the fact that no other is consistent or intelligible. If the "whole world" signifies the whole human race, then the first clause and the "also" in the second clause are absolutely meaningless. If Christ is the atoning sacrifice for everybody, it would be idle tautology to say, first, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and also for everybody". There could be no "also" if He is the atoning sacrifice for the entire human family. Had the apostle meant to affirm that Christ is a universal atoning sacrifice he had omitted the first clause of verse 2, and simply said, "He is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world." Confirmatory of "not for ours (Jewish believers) only, but also for the whole world"--Gentile believers, too; compare John 10:16; 17:20.
In the sixth place, our definition of "the whole world" is in perfect accord with other passages in the New Testament. For example: "Whereof you heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world" (Colossians 1:5, 6). Does "all the world" here mean, absolutely and unqualifiedly, all mankind? Had all the human family heard the Gospel? No; the apostle's obvious meaning is that, the Gospel, instead of being confined to the land of Judea, had gone abroad, without restraint, into Gentile lands. So in Romans 1:8: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world". The apostle is here referring to the faith of these Roman saints being spoken of in a way of commendation. But certainly all mankind did not so speak of their faith! It was the whole world of believers that he was referring to! In Revelation 12:9 we read of Satan "which deceives the whole world". But again this expression cannot be understood as a universal one, for Matthew 24:24 tells us that Satan does not and cannot "deceive" God's elect. Here it is "the whole world" of unbelievers.
In the seventh place, to insist that "the whole world" in 1 John 2:2 signifies the entire human race is to undermine the very foundations of our faith. If Christ is the atoning sacrifice for those that are lost equally as much as for those that are saved, then what assurance have we that believers too may not be lost? If Christ is the atoning sacrifice for those now in Hell, what guarantee have I that I may not end in Hell? The blood-shedding of the incarnate Son of God is the only thing which can keep any one out of Hell, and if many for whom that precious blood made atoning sacrifice are now in the awful place of the damned, then may not that blood prove inefficacious for me! Away with such a God-dishonoring thought.
However men may quibble and wrest the Scriptures, one thing is certain: The Atonement is no failure. God will not allow that precious and costly sacrifice to fail in accomplishing, completely, that which it was designed to effect. Not a drop of that holy blood was shed in vain. In the last great Day there shall stand forth no disappointed and defeated Savior, but One who "shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). These are not our words, but the infallible assertion of Him who declares, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure" (Isaiah 64:10). Upon this impregnable rock we take our stand. Let others rest on the sands of human speculation and twentieth-century theorizing if they wish. That is their business. But to God they will yet have to render an account. For our part we had rather be railed at as a narrow-minded, out-of-date, hyper-Calvinist, than be found repudiating God's truth by reducing the Divinely-efficacious atonement to a mere fiction.