Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Why Do Calvinists Despise Unlimited Limited Atonement?

I have a friend who posted from A.W. Pink, Pink’s infamous (from my viewpoint) talk on John 3:16 in which (like John Owen before him) Pink insists that John 3:16 does not teach that Jesus died for the world but rather the world here must be mean the elect that God has chosen out of the world.  If John 3:16 means that Jesus died for all men then all would be saved (this is their reasoning) and since all are not saved then it follows that Jesus did not die for all men and thus John 3:16 is not saying that Jesus died for the whole world but rather that He died only for the elect that God has chosen out of the sinful world.

And Calvinists rejoice in this view!

But why?  Why do Calvinists rejoice that John 3:16 doesn’t teach that Jesus shed His blood for all people?  What hope can they give lost sinners that they can be saved?  What comfort does it bring Calvinists to read John 3:16 and say to themselves, “This is not referring to all but only to the elect.”  Do they ever wonder then if Jesus perhaps did not die for them?  Remember that both Augustine and Calvin taught that God sometimes gives sinners a false assurance that they are saved but in reality He will condemn them to eternal hell because He simply did not choose them.

However, one could argue that Calvinists despise unlimited limited atonement for several reasons.  Some are obviously better than others. Let me offer just a few.

1.  It’s Not Biblical.

This would be the standard answer from your more intelligent Calvinists.  They honestly believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus shed His blood only for the elect and unlimited passages such as John 1:29 or John 3:16-18; Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2.  They believe that if this doctrine were true, Jesus shed His blood in vain since most people are not saved.

Calvinists often will reply as well that when Jesus died on the cross, He truly saved people on the cross.  They believe that all the Old Testament saints were now saved through Christ’s work as well as the New Testament saints yet to come.  The doctrine of definite atonement (or particular redemption or limited atonement) is said to have been completed on the cross.  However, nearly all Calvinists believe that the atonement must be appropriated by faith.  In other words, while they teach that the elect were justified in Christ at the cross, the elect only become the elect through faith.  Ask any normal Calvinist when they were saved and they will reply the same as the Arminian, “At this point in time when I repented of my sins and placed my faith in Christ.”  Yet this is a denial of the Calvinist doctrine if in fact the elect are not eternally justified in the mind of God.  If Christ shed His blood for the elect and Calvinism teaches that the elect are saved in Christ at the cross then the elect are never born with sin.  They are eternally justified before God because of Christ.  The elect were saved at the cross and thus none need to repent in time.  This is the logic of Calvinism if you carry it out.

The Arminian answer is simple: Christ shed His blood for all people and all can come and be saved.  However, only those who repent of their sins and place their saving faith in Christ Jesus are saved and thus the elect (1 Timothy 4:10).  The Bible even mentions that some are lost despite Jesus shedding His blood for them (Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1-2).  Calvinists often say that all whom the Lord loves (or chosen) will be saved yet Jesus loved the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 yet he was not saved.  Salvation is by faith (Romans 5:1) and not unto faith.

2.  Comfort in God’s Choosing.

Some Calvinists find comfort that the Bible teaches that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and they consider themselves His elect.  Calvin wrote about false assurance that God gives to the non-elect so the non-elect actually believe they are elect but in reality are not:

“Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them.

For more on this subject view this blogpost.

Calvin taught that God does not give us reasons why He allows people to believe they are the elect when they are not.  In the end, as always with the Calvinist doctrine of election, the choice is purely arbitrary.  While I don’t believe that the Calvinist view of election is the same as in Islam, both views end with a sovereign God choosing merely based on His own choice whom He will save and in both Calvinism and Islam, God does allow people to falsely believe they are the elect.  I have been told many times that I am not part of the elect because of my rejection of Calvinism (since Calvinism is seen as the gospel among some Calvinists).  I have been told that I have a false assurance and that I am lost.

For some Calvinists, the doctrine of election brings comfort to them since they believe that God looked throughout time and chose them.  From my vantage point, it seems God has favored Europeans and Westerners for most of the history of the Church.  Thankfully, God must now be finally choosing to save non-whites as He is saving people all across Africa and Asia.  Yet perhaps He is not and just giving these poor sinners a false assurance of their election.

The Arminian answer is simple: you can have assurance that you are part of the elect through faith in Christ (John 6:37) and in perseverance in faith (2 Peter 1:10-11).  The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).  The Word of God also bears witness to our adoption (1 John 5:13).  We can know that we are saved because of the work of Christ (Hebrews 9:14) and not our works.  If you are trusting in Christ alone to save you from the wrath to come, you are part of the elect of God!  You can have the assurance that Jesus shed His blood for you because of the doctrine of unlimited limited atonement.  The reason that we are seeing so many souls come to faith in Christ in Africa and Asia is because of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17) and the lack of faith in Europe and the West is because of the rejection of the true gospel.  Where the gospel is preached, God is faithful to save (Romans 10:13; cf. Acts 2:38-39).

Conclusion

I want to close by writing about how we should now preach.  Calvinist evangelists preach just like Arminians do when calling sinners to repentance.  I have yet to hear a Calvinist evangelist truly preach Calvinism to the lost.  I have found that Calvinism is often taught after one repents and not before.  When Calvinism is preached, it can lead to despair (see the case of Joseph Hawley, the uncle of Jonathan Edwards).

In reality, the Bible is clear that God wills the salvation of all (1 Timothy 2:4).  His will is for people to repent (2 Peter 3:9).  The Bible says that God does not delight in the death of the wicked but that they should turn and live (Ezekiel 18:32).  Jesus shed His blood for all sinners but only those who place their faith in His saving work are the elect of God.  All others go to hell because of their own sins and their own unwillingness to repent of their sins.

Romans 3:23-25 is clear:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

We receive salvation by grace through faith.  Let us preach this truth to all creation (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

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