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Richard Watson on the Extent of the Atonement

Editors Note: Wise words from Dr. Richard Watson, one of the greatest Arminian theologians ever, about the extent of the atonement of Christ.

The question before us, put into its most simple form, is, whether our Lord Jesus Christ did so die for all men, as to make salvation attainable by all men; and the affirmative of this question is, we think, the doctrine of Scripture.

We assume that this is plainly expressed,

1. In all those passages which declare that Christ died for all men, and speak of his death as an atonement for the sins of the whole world.

We have already seen, in treating of our Lords atonement, in what sense the phrase, to die for us, must be understood; that it signifies to die in the place and stead of man, as a sacrificial oblation, by which satisfaction is made for the sins of the individual, so that they become remissible upon the terms of the evangelical covenant. When, therefore, it is said, that Christ by the grace of GOD tasted death for every man; and that he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world; it can only, we think be fairly concluded from such declarations, and from many other familiar texts, in which the same phraseology is employed, that, by the death of Christ, the sins of every man are rendered remissible, and that salvation is consequently attainable by every man. Again, our Lord called himself the Saviour of the world; and is, by St. Paul, called the Saviour of all men. John the Baptist points him out as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world; and our Lord himself declares, God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life: for GOD sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that time world through him might be saved. So, also the Apostle Paul, GOD was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.

2. In those passages which attribute an equal extent to the effect! of the death of Christ as to the effects of the fall of our first parents For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. Therefore, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

As the unlimited extent of Christs atonement to all mankind, is plainly expressed in the above-cited passages, so is it, we also assume, necessarily implied,

1. In those which declare that Christ died not only for those that are saved, but for those who do, or may perish; so that it cannot be argued, from the actual condemnation of men, that they were excepted from many actual, and from all the offered, benefits of his death. And through thy knowledge shall thy weak brother perish, for whom Christ died. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. False teachers, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. So also in the case of the apostates mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith h was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace It any dispute should here arise as to the phrase, wherewith lie was sanctified, reference may be made to chap. vi, of the same epistle, where the same class of persons, whose doom is pronounced to be inevitable, are said to have been once enlightened; to have tasted of the heavenly gift; to have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost; to have tasted the good word of GOD, and the powers of the world to come : all which expressions show that they were placed on the same ground with other Christians as to their interest in the new covenant,a point to which we shall again recur.

2. In all those passages which make it the duty of men to believe the Gospel; and place them under guilt, and the penalty of death, for rejecting it. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. He that believeth not is condemned already, because he bath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The plain argument from all such passages is, that the Gospel is commanded to be preached to all men; that it is preached to them that they may believe in Christ, its Author; that this faith is required of them, in order to their salvation, that believing ye may have life through his name ; that they have power thus to believe to their salvation; (from whatever source, or by whatever means this power is derived to them, need not now be examined: it is plainly sup. posed; for not to believe, is reckoned to them as a capital crime, for which they are condemned already, and reserved to final condemnation;) and that having power to believe, they have the power to obtain salvation, which, as it can be bestowed only through the merits of Christs sacrifice, proves that it extends to them. The same conclusion, also, follows from time nature of that faith, which is required by the Gospel, in order to salvation. This, we have already seen, is not mere assent to the doctrine of Christs sacrificial death, but personal trust in it as our atonement; which those, surely, could not be required by a God of truth to exercise, if that atonement did not embrace them. Nor could they be guilty for refusing to trust in that which was never intended to be the object of their trust; for if God so designed to exclude them from Christ, he could not command them to trust in Christ; and if they are not commanded thus to trust in Christ, they do not violate any command by not believing; and, in this respect, are innocent.

3. In all those passages in which mens failure to obtain salvation is placed to the account of their own opposing wills, and made wholly their own fault. How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! And ye will not come to me that ye may have life. Bringing upon themselves swift destruction. Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. It is useless here to multiply quotations, since the New Testament so constantly exhorts men to come to Christ, reproves them for neglect, and threatens them with the penal consequences of their own folly: thus uniformly placing the bar to their salvation, just where Christ places it, in his parable of the supper, in the perverseness of those, who having been bidden to the feast, would not come. From these premises, then, it follows, that since the Scriptures always attribute the ruin of mens souls to their own will, and not to the will of God; we ought to seek for no other cause of their condemnation. We can know nothing on this subject but what God has revealed. He has declared that it is not his will that men should perish: on the contrary, He willeth all men to be saved; and therefore commands us to pray for all men; he has declared, that the reason they are not saved, is not that Christ did not die for them, but that they will not come to him for the life which he died to procure for the world; and it must therefore be concluded, that the sole bar to the salvation of all who are lost is in themselves, and not in any such limitation of Christs redemption, as supposes that they were not comprehended in its efficacy and intention.

It will now be necessary for us to consider what those who have adopted a different opinion have to urge against these plain and literal declarations of Scripture. It is their burthen, that they are compelled to explain these passages in a more limited and qualified sense, than the letter of them and its obvious meaning teaches: and that they must do this by inference merely; for it is not even pretended that there is any text whatever to be adduced, which declares as literally, that Christ did not die for the salvation of all, as those which declare that he did so die. We have no passages, therefore, to examine, which, in their clear literal meaning, stand opposed to those which we have quoted, so as to present apparent contradictions which require to be reconciled by concession on one side or the other. This is at least, prima facie, strongly in favour of those who hold that, in the same sense, and with the same design, Jesus Christ tasted death for every man.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

04/16/2013 at 5:01 PM

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