The things we have to choose between are an atonement of high value, or an atonement of wide extension. The two cannot go together.’ – B. B. WARFIELD
In The Other Side of Calvinism, Laurence Vance says that Calvinists defend limited atonement with a vengeance, which simply adds insult to the injury of unconditional election. He goes on to say: “In the Calvinistic system, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever whether Christ died for the `non-elect’-they could not be saved if Christ died a thousand deaths for them. Calvinists do not hesitate to insist that the reason Christ’s blood was shed only for the `elect’ is because God did not want any others to be saved.’ 12 Vance then concludes that “the precarious doctrine of limited atonement renders the salvation of any man doubtful and uncertain.”3
Such caricatures abound in the Arminian camp. Therefore, I want to use this chapter to look at how the Calvinist view of atonement is biblical and more positive than many think. Then I will seek to answer some common objections to the Calvinist view.
BIBLICAL SUPPORT FOR DEFINITE ATONEMENT
Biblical terms, tenses, and testimonies make a sure case for definite atonement. Consider the following:
• Biblical terms. The Bible vividly describes what Christ did on the cross: He made a sacrifice; He made propitiation; He reconciled His people to God; He guaranteed the redemption of His own; He gave His life a ransom for many (but not all); He bore the curse of those for whom He died.
But do the biblical concepts of sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, ransom, and curse-bearing support Calvinism’s assertion that Christ secured salvation, or do they support the Arminian notion that Christ made salvation possible through His death?
Arminianism does injustice to the basic biblical concept of redemption, which has its roots in the deliverance of the people of God out of Egypt. Redemption did not merely make their release from Egyptian bondage possible; it brought them out of bondage into the place of God’s appointment. Likewise, with propitiation, God’s wrath is satisfied by the offering up of a sacrifice, and once His wrath is satisfied, it turns away. A ransom releases the one for whom it is paid. Therefore, the onus is on anyone who says that Christ’s death did not actually secure the salvation of a defined group of people to show that his view does justice to these biblical terms. Arminianism does not do that.4
• Biblical tenses. The very nature of Christ’s work is reconciliation. Hebrews 9 tells us that He has obtained redemption for us. Romans 8:29-30 speaks of Christ’s work with such certainty that Paul can use the aorist tense for all of his main verbs, speaking as if even glorification is already accomplished. Ephesians 5:25-27 tells us that Christ so loved the church that He gave Himself for it, not that He might make it a redeemable or perfectible church, but that He might redeem her in order to present her as His bride before His Father as a glorious church. Clearly, the intent of His death was nothing less than the completed salvation of every one of those for whom He died. Titus 2:14 says He “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
• Biblical testimonies. The definiteness of the atonement of Christ can be affirmed irrevocably from biblical testimonies. The Bible speaks clearly of Jesus laying down His life for His sheep (John 10:11-13). In that context, He says of certain people, “Ye are not of my sheep” (v. 26). Scripture also speaks of Christ laying down His life for the children of God (John 11:51-52); dying for His church (Eph. 5:25-27; Acts 20:28); saving His people (Matt. 1:21); giving His life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28); seeing His seed (Isa. 53:10; Ps. 22); and redeeming His own from iniquity (Titus 2:14)-all as having already happened (Rev. 5:9).