Limited Atonement and the Preaching of the Gospel

“The faith which is enjoined and commanded in the gospel hath divers several acts and different degrees, [this consideration is incredibly useful for addressing the challenge that Particular Redemption impedes preaching of the Gospel; it is false that the first thing that people are to believe is that Christ died for them a particularly and that Christ dying for one is the first doctrine extended to the unbeliever.] For the present I shall only intimate something… concerning the order of exercising the several acts of faith; whereby it will appear that no one in the world is commanded or invited to believe, but that he that a sufficient object to fix the act of faith on, of truth enough for its foundation, and latitude enough for its utmost exercise, which is enjoined him. First, then, The first thing which the gospel enjoineth sinners, and which it persuades and commands them to believe, is, that salvation is not to be had in themselves, inasmuch as all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; nor by the works of the law, by which no flesh living can be justified…. Secondly, The gospel requires faith to this, that there is salvation to be had in the promised seed,–in Him who was before ordained to be a captain of salvation to them that do believe…. Thirdly, That Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by the Jews, was this Saviour, promised before; and that there is no name under heaven given whereby they may be saved besides his…. Now, before these three acts of faith be performed, in vain is the soul exhorted farther to climb the uppermost steps, and miss all the bottom foundation ones. Fourthly, The gospel requires a resting upon this Christ, so discovered and believed on to be the promised Redeemer, as an all-sufficient Saviour, with whom is plenteous redemption, and who is able to save to the utmost them that come to God by him, and to bear the burden of all weary labouring souls that come by faith to him; in which proposal there is a certain infallible truth, grounded upon the superabundant sufficiency of the oblation of Christ in itself, for whomsoever (fewer or more) it be intended…. The truth is, without the help of God’s Spirit none of those three before, much less this last, can be performed; which worketh freely, when, how, and in whom he pleaseth. Fifthly, These things being firmly seated in the soul (and not before), we are every one called in particular to believe the efficacy of the redemption that is in the blood of Jesus towards our own souls in particular: which every one may assuredly do in whom the free grace of God hath wrought the former acts of faith, and doth work this also, without either doubt or fear of want of a right object to believe if they should so do; for certainly Christ died for every one in whose heart the lord, by his almighty power, works effectually faith to lay hold on him and assent unto him, according to that orderly proposal that is held forth in the gospel.”

– John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, 202-203

Have you been challenged that Limited Atonement (better called Particular Redemption) impedes the spreading of the Gospel? John Owen addresses this challenge by discussing what exactly the free offer of the Gospel looks like in evangelism.

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3 thoughts on “Limited Atonement and the Preaching of the Gospel

  1. How about this tho. Let’s use an analogy of Smith and Jones. If only Smith’s sins have been imputed to Christ, as per Owen’s trilemma argument, then only Smith’s sins are forgivable. That means only Smith is savable. Jones, however, is not savable nor are his sins forgivable.

    How then can God justly and/or sincerely offer to forgive Jones’ sins in the offer of the gospel?

    David.

    • I think this comes down to the whole intertwining web of TULIP. A provisional point that needs to be kept in mind when discussing limited atonement is: Only God knows who are the elect, it is in His secret will and we will never know and it is not our job to fret about discovering; it is for Him and Him alone to know who He has elected to eternal life and whom He has left in their sins. That caveat being laid down; how can we legitimately tell someone that if they come to Christ they will be saved without any provisions? If I am talking to Smith and Jones over coffee I tell them the truth; the offer of the gospel is that whoever believes in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (assuming a real believing of true faith) will be forgiven (of course their is much more to a response to the gospel and the whole Christian walk of sanctification ending in glorification). This can legitimately be offered because God will never turn away someone who comes to Him in faith. If someone has put their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins we can then tell them that they have been forgiven by Christ, that Jesus died for them specifically; why can we say this? Because the very fact that they respond with true saving faith is an indication of truth that He died for them. In His death Jesus did not just purchase forgiveness of sins, but the very condition for receiving that forgiveness; that is, faith (the very purchasing of faith in the Atonement is actually a foundational argument used by Owen against the idea of conditionality in the atonement proposed by the Arminians and many of the people with articles on your site). Faith is a gift given by God to His elect, only His elect will exhibit true saving faith because it is for them that faith, sanctification, glorification, adoption, etc. was purchased on the cross. Ignorant of who is and isn’t elect we freely tell people the truth that if they believe they will be saved; only the elect will respond because it is only they whom God draws (John 6:37-44, John 10:12-26) with the Spirit’s work in their hearts, all other people would be saved if they responded but they will not respond because they are so hardened in sin that they will never desire to be saved, only to wallow in their sin and corruption living life for themselves and not for God.

  2. James: I think this comes down to the whole intertwining web of TULIP. A provisional point that needs to be kept in mind when discussing limited atonement is: Only God knows who are the elect, it is in His secret will and we will never know and it is not our job to fret about discovering; it is for Him and Him alone to know who He has elected to eternal life and whom He has left in their sins.

    David: I think that misses the point. My objection was about God offering forgiveness to Smith and Jones. Technically speaking, we don’t offer forgiveness of sins, we are only messengers of God’s offer.

    So regardless of whether I know who the elect are, or not, how can God for his part offer forgiveness to Jones? That is the issue I am underlining.

    You say: That caveat being laid down; how can we legitimately tell someone that if they come to Christ they will be saved without any provisions?

    David: Well that is not what I said above. That deals with another problem. The agnostic problem is also irrelevant on this level: the level of counter-factuals and simple statements.

    For example, if I say, “if you reach out and grab the rope I will pull you up” this could be a false statement, if its also true that I am unable to pull the person up, even were they to grab the rope.

    If God says to Jones, “If you believe you will be saved,” this would be false because the necessary preconditions, what Polhill called the necessary antecedent conditions (same thing), are not present to make the statement true. If there is no means for Jones to be saved, then telling Jones that if he believes he will be saved false, because God for his part, has no means to save Jones; as Jones is not saved simply through the means of his faith.

    Owen and others completely ignore this because its deadly. Polhill, Owen’s friend saw it, and pointed it out to Owen.

    For any conditional statement to be true, ALL the necessary preconditions must be present.

    You say: If I am talking to Smith and Jones over coffee I tell them the truth; the offer of the gospel is that whoever believes in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (assuming a real believing of true faith) will be forgiven (of course their is much more to a response to the gospel and the whole Christian walk of sanctification ending in glorification). This can legitimately be offered because God will never turn away someone who comes to Him in faith.

    David: Two things, at one level that is not an offer, but a conditional statement, which is false if God has no means to save that man. Next, even if considered as an expression of speech-act theory, and thus an offer, its still false, as there is no means for God, for his part, to save the man. So whether as a simple conditional statement its false, or as an offer (speech-act theory) its also false.

    You say: If someone has put their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins we can then tell them that they have been forgiven by Christ, that Jesus died for them specifically; why can we say this? Because the very fact that they respond with true saving faith is an indication of truth that He died for them. In His death Jesus did not just purchase forgiveness of sins, but the very condition for receiving that forgiveness; that is, faith (the very purchasing of faith in the Atonement is actually a foundational argument used by Owen against the idea of conditionality in the atonement proposed by the Arminians and many of the people with articles on your site).

    David: I think thats irrelevant. Its granted that were a man to believe, it means there was a provision for him, etc etc. However, the question is, what is God proposing to the man for whom no provision has been made?

    Rest cut

    If you want to read more on how counter-factuals change and modify simple conditional statements see here: http://calvinandcalvinism.com/?p=11670

    Thanks for your time,
    David

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