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Limiting the Atonement
by Peter Meney

Any idea of limiting God ought to be anathema to a Christian. Our God is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient) and all-pervading (omnipresent). There is nothing in this world or the entire universe that God does not see, know and control. There is nothing that God has willed and purposed to do that will be frustrated or fail. Our finite minds buckle at such immensity, but that is why our Lord is God Almighty.

Nevertheless, there are areas in which God has chosen to limit Himself and, we confess there is some knowledge He does not possess. For example, God does not know what it is to commit sin or act deceitfully. Our Lord is never confused or uncertain. God is never taken by surprise.

The Positive Attributes of God

Of course these examples are merely the downside of God's positive attributes of holiness, sovereignty and eternal purpose. Yet they do reveal the ways in which our use of language and particular words can give the appearance of limiting or restricting the power of God. This we can see even in scripture, on occasions, where we read for example, 'And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart' Genesis 6:6.

Yet we must not suppose that such verses indicate variability of purpose within God. Rather they supply for us, by way of human comparison, an insight into the utter abhorance God feels towards the extent and degree of the sinfulness of man. Thus, while a cursory reading might suggest that God concluded that He had made a mistake and was sorry for creating man, in truth, the purpose and design of the description is to reveal God's absolute holiness and the affront caused by the wickedness of His human creation.

Limits within the work of Christ

Within the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ there is another example of men trying to shoehorn God into their own image by curtailing and misconstruing what He has clearly revealed of Himself. In the name of honouring God, these people actually try to set boundaries on God's purpose and limit the nature and extent of the redemptive work of Christ. They sneer piteously at the idea of any elective purpose in the eternal will of God while limiting the very essence of the plan of salvation.

The limitations of freewill atonement

It is amazing to read the output and hear the conversation of Arminian freewillers who accuse free grace believers of restricting the efficacy of Christ's death and limiting the scope of the redemptive plan. It is as though they say we limit God and His ability to save whomsoever He chooses. They fail to grasp that whatever limits apply to God apply precisely because He wills it so to be and they are no slight on His power to accomplish just whatever He desires.

Election is a great theme of the Bible

As free grace believers we accept that God has purposefully chosen to save only some of the men and women of this world. (Romans 9:11, 1 Thessalonians 1:4). These individuals He calls His elect or His sheep (John 10:26, Romans 8:33, 1 Peter 1:2). These elect do not extend to the whole of mankind but are men and women of every kind and status in life who are saved by grace through faith. Upon these particular individuals, and these alone, does the love and mercy of God alight savingly. For these blessed people alone are all the provisions of redemption, atonement and forgiveness secured. This is the proper, Biblical, limitation of Christ's death (John 10:11,14).

Professing themselves to be wise ...

The irony is, however, that it is the mistaken Arminian view of Christ's redemption that truly limits the power and accomplishments of God. In rushing to extend the scope of the atonement to all men and women without exception, they limit the efficacy of Christ's death. This means that while they want to encompass all mankind beneath the merits of Christ's shed blood, they must needs limit what that blood can actually achieve. This is an improper limitation of Christ's death.

For example, they say that Christ died for all men yet acknowledge that not all men are saved. Therefore the death of Christ does not in itself achieve and accomplish what it set out to do. Its power to save is reduced and instead Christ's sacrifice is restricted to making salvation possible for those who later wish, of their own free will, to make it effective for themselves.

Denying the sinfulness of sin

Furthermore, freewillers limit the offence of sin. They say that Christ died for all sin of all men and women everywhere. Yet they acknowledge that hell is a reality and say it will be populated for eternity by those who reject the offer of salvation that God has provided.

But we enquire what sin are they to be punished for if Christ has died for all sin? What offence against the living God has not been atoned for by the blood of Christ? What act of rebellion and ingratitude still remains in man to be punished if Christ has already been punished for all? Is not unbelief a sin, too? (John 16:9) Is not rejection of the creator's will an offence against the living God? (John 8:24).

Treading underfoot the blood of Christ is rightly worthy of God's wrath and eternal punishment but it is to accuse God of the most heinous injustice to imagine that debts once paid for by Christ's suffering and death will remain outstanding and have to be paid for twice. This is an improper limitation of Christ's redemptive work.

Inflating the abilities of man

Thirdly, those who propose universal redemption and thereby deny that Christ died only for the elect, in full accordance with the purpose and justice of God, also limit the true depths of man's depraved nature. This is a most serious mistake, for it supposes that man is better and more able than he is and suggests that it is within the power and ability of all men and women to secure their salvation, an accomplishment which even Christ's blood was unable to do.

The Bible describes men as dead in sin and reveals that because men are natural and God is spiritual it is impossible for men to discern the things of God (Romans 8:8, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Hebews 11:6). But freewillers must find the power within man to choose God, despite the clear testimony of scripture (2 Corinthians 4:4). They must allow for the ability of sinful human beings to make Christ's redemptive work efficacious. They must limit the Bible's teaching on depravity to allow man the choice to accept or reject the offer God wants them to receive. This is an improper limitation of Christ's redemptive work.

Proper and improper limitations

So you see that the very freewill believers who pride themselves in upholding a wide, free and all-embracing atonement actually limit Christ's death in a most improper way. Free grace believers uphold the Bible truth that God has limited Himself to the accomplishment of the salvation of His chosen people.

Yes, we believe in limited atonement, or particular redemption. But we do not limit the power of Christ's blood to save and actually accomplish the reconciliation and deliverance from condemnation of all sinners who are brought by grace to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, we believe in limited atonement. But we do not limit the number or extent of the sins for which Christ died. We discover by the mercy of God that He saves to the uttermost all who come to Him believing, endowed with that divine gift of faith (John 6:29). We see that while in Adam all die yet in Christ all are made alive and we thank God that in His love for His chosen people He has been pleased to place us in Christ and utterly cleanse us from all sin-even the sin of unbelief.

Yes, we believe in limited atonement. But we do not strive to limit the depths of depravity to which our human nature has plumbed because of sin. We do not see ourselves better than we are, or imagine that some residual goodness or latent desire to please God causes us to accept Him while others reject (Ephesians 1:19, Philippians 1:29).

Instead, we see that Salvation is of the Lord. We see sinful men and women loved of God, saved by grace, redeemed, forgiven, reconciled and blessed with faith in Jesus Christ, their limitless God.

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