f The Wittenberg Door: Who’s Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 7 – Arminianism: Unlimited Atonement

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Who’s Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 7 – Arminianism: Unlimited Atonement

In Part 6 we learned that, despite the teaching of Arminianism, God grants salvation to those whom He chooses; and that His choice is not based upon any foreseen faith or works, but on His own sovereign will and gracious good pleasure.

In this installment we’ll consider the Arminian doctrine of Unlimited Atonement. According to this teaching, it was God’s intention to save every person without exception, even though the application of Christ’s death is made to believers only. Furthermore, Christ death did not actually save anyone; it just made salvation possible.

Conceptual Problems

The doctrine of Unlimited Atonement runs into various conceptual issues. The following are just a few:

Problem One: Universalism or Failure
If God intended for every person to be saved without exception, then every person would be saved. In Eph. 1:11 Paul tells us that God “works all things according to the council of His will.” Furthermore, Daniel tells us that nothing can keep God from accomplishing His intentions:

. . . He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand…
(Daniel 4:35 )

Arminians reject Universalism—they do not believe that all are saved, even though God wanted to save all men. But what can we say about a god who wants to accomplish something but can’t because his creation won’t let him? Indeed, the god who emerges from this view is not a sovereign god whose hand can’t be restrained, but one who is impotent to accomplish His intentions.

John Owen (1616-1683) provides us with the only logical options:

Christ either paid for . . .

  • All of the sins of all men (Universalism)

  • Some of the sins of all men (no one would be saved on this view, for God requires perfect holiness, Mat. 5:48)


  • All of the sins of some men (we’ll consider the Scriptures for this view in the next post)

Problem Two: Hell
Supposedly, the divine intention behind Christ’s death was to save every man, woman, and child who ever lived. The problem is, Christ’s death occurred 2,000 years ago. What about the people who lived in the preceding millenniums?

At the time of His death there were already millions, if not billions, of people in Hell. What about them? Did Christ die with the intention of saving the unsavable? He must have if the Arminian claim were true.

A common Arminian retort is that Christ made a post-crucifixion appearance in Hell where He offered them salvation. Apparently, though, they chose to stay in torment rather than accepting an invitation to paradise (I guess the rich man changed his mind, Luke 16:19-31).

Problem Tree: The Unjust Judge
One of the main problems with the Arminian view is that it makes God an unjust judge. Here's why: Say you are about to be sentenced for a crime you've committed and a man steps forward and says that he'll take your punishment upon himself. The judge agrees to accept the substitute and punishes the man accordingly.

What if, however, after punishing the substitute, the judge then exacts the same punishment upon you? Would that be just? Of course not. But this is exactly what Unlimited Atonement teaches—Christ paid the price for the unrepentant sinner, which God accepts; then, upon the man's death, he punishes the man for the same crimes already paid for by Christ. God wouldn't be a just judge, but a devil!


As we've seen so far, Unlimited Atonement carries with it serious doctrinal consequences. In my next post in this series we'll consider the Scriptures that address the questions, “For whom did Christ die?” and “Did Christ actually save anyone? Or did He simply make salvation possible?”

--The Catechizer



Anonymous CJ said...

Your assessments are very persuasive, but I still have some questions. For the record, I'm not an Arminian, but I have been wrestling with the concept of Limited Atonement for a while.

What, then, do we do with verses like 1 John 2:2, Romans 5:18, and 1 Timothy 2:3-5? Either the Bible contradicts itself (which I don't believe), or there must be some other explanation, perhaps beyond the logic of finite creatures? If Christ's blood is not sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world -- past, present, and future -- then where is its power?

Now, I agree, Christ died for the elect; there is no question in my mind about that. But I have trouble with the concept that He died for the elect because His blood is not sufficient to save all mankind. Its efficacy is for the elect, but isn't it sufficient for the world?

3:03 PM  
Anonymous CJ said...

I should have said "solely" for the elect. My apologies if my comment was unclear.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Weldon said...

CJ,I should leave the fuller response to our good hosts. In the meantime, a rubric that I heard often as I was wrestling with a particular atonement was that Christ blood was 'sufficient for all, efficient only for the elect'. No limit to the power, or worth of the blood of the Son of God, but the intent -- the application of it, was to purchase a people for God.

8:18 AM  
Blogger The Catechizer and The Deacon said...

CJ, great questions. I can relate to your chagrin. I was there at one time too. The answer is more involved than this space permits so I'm posting an article on it titled, For Whom did Christ Die?.

Great answer, Weldon. Thank you

6:21 PM  

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