Pristine Grace

The Assurance of Grace in Time
Effective Atonement
by Mike Krall

In the 17th century, a Puritan by the name of John Owen wrote a monumental treatise on the death of Christ called, "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ". This work, by far, was one of the most comprehensive works on the nature of the death of our Lord. In this essay, we examine the death of Christ as referenced in the work of Owen in presenting the doctrine of Particular Redemption, or commonly known as Effective Atonement.

This is the most controversial aspect of the grace of God in the lives of sinners. The scope of the atoning work of Christ has been labeled, (wrongfully I believe), Limited Atonement; and it is the reason for the rejection of this doctrine by many. Everyone, unless you believe in the ultimate salvation of all mankind, believes in some kind of limited atonement.

The question to ask is what did Jesus accomplish on the cross, not the scope of his death. Did He actually save sinners, or did He just make the salvation of sinners possible? Was it just a provisional salvation, only providing a way for men to save themselves by cooperating with God, or did he actually "obtain eternal redemption" for His people? You will have to either limit the POWER of His atoning work or the SCOPE of His work. If you do not limit either, you are a universalist believing in the salvation of all mankind.

I once heard a Baptist preacher tell a story of a woman Sunday School teacher who was teaching the universal salvation of mankind in a Baptist church. The deacons came to pay her a visit to try to straighten her out on this false doctrine. This woman (as this Preacher described it) "ran the men up a tree, cut off the limb, and hit him on the head with it." She stood by the Scriptures that talked about "all," "the world", etc., when referring to the work of Christ. After they talked with her, they realized that if their premise is right (that Christ died for all men), then her conclusion HAD to be right (the universal salvation of mankind). They walked out of there, not universalists, but believers in Particular Redemption. 

What Christ's death accomplished is the crux of the Gospel and the fulfillment of the Scriptures. The purpose of Christ's death was to:


1) save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21),

2) to deliver people from this evil world (Gal. 1:4),

3) to make people pure and holy (Eph. 5:25-27), and

4) to create a people zealous for good works (Titus 2:14.


What did Jesus Christ accomplish by His death?

1) He reconciled a people to God (Rom 5:1).

2) People are forgiven and justified by it (Rom 3:24).

3) People are made clean and holy by it (Heb. 9:14).

4) People are adopted as God's sons by it (Gal. 4:4,5).

5) People receive glory and eternal life (Heb. 9:15).


It is clear from these Scriptures that the death of Christ ACTUALLY DOES bring to men forgiveness from guilt and the power of sin now and to glory later. If He died for all men, then all men will be freed from sin, or else Christ FAILED IN HIS PURPOSE.

Many have attempted to answer this by saying that people do not believe, so they will not receive the benefits of Christ's death, and it will not become effective in their lives. This makes the most vital part of our salvation, our faith, something stemming from ourselves and not a fruit of Christ's atoning work. What this view is saying then is that Christ, by His death, only enables us to save ourselves by believing and that Christ didn't die for the sin of unbelief. Since we all have unbelief sometime in our life before we were saved (and some do thereafter), we would all have some sin to be paid for: Then nobody could be saved!.

Objections to this doctrine are based upon the belief that this somehow lowers the merit of Christ's atoning work. But we must remember that the merit of Christ's death is not measured by how many people it includes, but if it accomplishes its intended purpose.

A man came up to Charles Spurgeon, a Baptist preacher of the last century, after he had preached a sermon on this doctrine and told him that the doctrine that Christ died for only the elect, is a much narrower bridge than his doctrine that says Christ died for all mankind. Charles Spurgeon answered "Yes but our bridge goes all the way to the other side." An atonement that includes all men but doesn't save all men only goes half way across. That is a much more limiting atonement than the one that includes only the elect but actually brings them to salvation. What we have to choose from is an atonement of high value (Particular Redemption) or and atonement of wide extension (Universal Atonement).

The work of Christ can only be universalized by draining the life blood from it's substance.

In Romans 8:32 Paul states, after one of the most comprehensive arguments for election, that if "God delivered Him up for us all how will He not with Him freely give us all things?" Does He freely give all things to all men? Nobody will ever want to seek God except those for whom He died, who have the fruits of His death applied to them by the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures teach that both faith and repentance are gifts of God flowing out from the finished work of Christ. In Philippians 1:29 we read "For it had been granted to you for Christ's sake not only to believe in Him but to suffer for His names sake." There we have a clear statement that faith was granted by Christ. In addition, the Scriptures state 3 times that repentance is a gift: Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25.

No study of this doctrine on the nature and scope of Christ's atoning work is complete without looking at the problems upholding to universal atonement. All serious students of the Scriptures need to examine these carefully. 

The first is the problem of a balanced Trinitarian salvation. Since the work of the Father is never in vain, those who are chosen by the Father , those who are redeemed by the Son, and those who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit must include the same persons. Universal atonement makes these unequal, thereby destroying the perfect harmony of the Trinity.

The second problem is that of the successful travail of the soul of Christ. In Isaiah 53:10,11 we read of the sufferings of Christ on the cross. We read that "He will see His seed" in verse 10 and in verse 11, we read as the result of the travail of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied. A question one must ask is this "Do you think Christ could be satisfied with His travail when most of the seed He was seeing would go to hell?" Many were already in hell when He was on the cross. 

When my wife gave birth to our children she could say all the pain she suffered, after looking at the children, was worth it. But what about the many that suffer pain only to lose that child? Could they say the same thing? Could Christ look at those of His seed in hell and be satisfied? Perish the thought!

The third problem is that of the justice of God. Would God be just to punish sin twice? If Christ died for all men and many of them were already in hell suffering for their own sins, like Ahaz and Jezebel, would God be just to lay their sins on Christ when they AT THAT VERY MOMENT WERE PAYING FOR THEIR OWN SIN?

The fourth problem is the Priesthood of Christ. The very intercession of Christ, part of His priesthood, is the comfort of all believers. If this intercession is for all men, even those in hell, then where is the comfort? This is the whole teaching of Romans 8:28-39. If His intercession is not for all men, (the intercession is the cause of ones repentance and faith), but His death is (the other office of the priest), then you have just separated the offices of the priest. Nowhere in Scripture does the priest have two different groups of people. The same group he offered sacrifice for are the ones he intercedes for. It is Christ's intercession that is the very reason why those for whom He died ultimately get saved. 

The fifth problem is that of the Bride of Christ and its analogy to the husband-wife relationship. Christ loves the Church and that is an example of how a man should love his wife (Eph. 5:25); but if Christ loved the whole world as well as His Church that He would die for them, then a man may love other women the way they love their wives.

The serious student of Scripture that rejects this doctrine should carefully study these 5 points. After carefully weighing the evidence from Scripture, little doubt should be cast upon the doctrine of an effective, definite atonement.

What do we tell lost sinners if it is not that Jesus died for them? That is a question that comes to the mind of many when they begin to come to grips with this doctrine. It is not necessary that a sinner know that Christ died for him in particular at the outset of conversion. What all lost souls need to know is:

1) He is a sinner under the wrath of God. 
2) Salvation through Christ's death is certain to all who repent of their sins and believe in Him. 
3) He who answers God's call will certainly be saved. 
4) God's free and sovereign grace is available to all distressed and burdened consciences. 
5) Christ's death is adequate to all who come to Him.

A. W. Pink in "the Sovereignty of God" stated it very perceptively: "The gospel is God's good news concerning Christ not sinners....A universal testimony must be borne to the matchless worth of the person and work of Christ...The gospel is God's witness unto the perfections of His son. Mark the words of the apostle :"For we are a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, AND in them that perish." 2Cor 2:15

The Gospel is not an "offer" to be bandied about by evangelistic peddlers. The gospel is no mere invitation but a proclamation, a proclamation concerning Christ; true whether men believe it or not. No man is asked to believe that Christ died for him in particular. The gospel is in brief that Christ died for sinners, you are a sinner, believe in Christ, and you shall be saved. In the gospel God simply announces the terms upon which men may be saved, (namely repentance and faith), and indiscriminately all are commanded to fulfill them.

What does this say to us? First, the truth of this doctrine should purge out any false professors who think they are in a saving union with Christ simply because they made a decision. Christ died to set His people free from the ravages of darkness and you have no reason to believe you are one of those for whom Christ died if there is no desire after holiness.

Secondly, this doctrine should ravish our hearts with the love of Christ seeing that it now becomes more personal. It won't lead to pride as some have supposed since the elect are no more worthy of Christ's death then the devil himself. It is the free and sovereign love, mercy and grace of God.