And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
~ Acts 17:26
Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
~ Isaiah 41:22-23
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
~ Matthew 13:35
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
~ Ephesians 1:4
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
~ 2 Thessalonians 2:13
The Sovereignty of God the Son in Salvation, by A. W. Pink.
For whom did Christ die? It surely does not need arguing that the Father had an express purpose in giving Him to die, or that God the Son had a definite design before Him in laying down His life—“Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). What then was the purpose of the Father and the design of the Son? We answer, Christ died for “God’s elect.”
We are not unmindful of the fact that the limited design in the death of Christ has been the subject of much controversy—what great truth revealed in Scripture has not? Nor do we forget that anything which has to do with the person and work of our blessed Lord requires to be handled with the utmost reverence, and that a “Thus saith the Lord” must be given in support of every assertion we make. Our appeal shall be to the Law and to the Testimony.
For whom did Christ die? Who were the ones He intended to redeem by His blood-shedding? Surely the Lord Jesus had some absolute determination before Him when He went to the Cross. If He had, then it necessarily follows that the extent of that purpose was limited, because an absolute determination or purpose must be effected. If the absolute determination of Christ included all mankind, then all mankind would most certainly be saved. To escape this inevitable conclusion many have affirmed that there was no such absolute determination before Christ, that in His death a merely conditional provision of salvation has been made for all mankind. The refutation of this assertion is found in the promises made by the Father to His Son before He went to the Cross, yea, before He became incarnate. The Old Testament Scriptures represent the Father as promising the Son a certain reward for His sufferings on behalf of sinners. At this stage we shall confine ourselves to one or two statements recorded in the well known fifty-third of Isaiah. There we find God saying, “When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed,” that “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied,” and that God’s righteous Servant “should justify many” (vv. 10 and 11). But here we would pause and ask, How could it be certain that Christ should “see His seed,” and “see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied,” unless the salvation of certain members of the human race had been Divinely decreed, and therefore was sure? How could it be certain that Christ should “justify many,” if no effectual provision was made that any should receive Him as their Saviour? On the other hand, to insist that the Lord Jesus did expressly purpose the salvation of all mankind, is to charge Him with that which no intelligent being should be guilty of, namely, to design that which by virtue of His omniscience He knew would never come to pass. Hence, the only alternative left us is that, so far as the pre-determined purpose of His death is concerned, Christ died for the elect only. Summing up in a sentence, which we trust will be intelligible to every reader, we would say, Christ died not merely to make possible the salvation of all mankind, but to make certain the salvation of all that the Father had given to Him. Christ died not simply to render sins pardonable, but “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26). As to who’s “sin” (i.e., guilt, as in 1 John 1:7, etc.) has been “put away,” Scripture leaves us in no doubt—it was that of the elect, the “world” (John 1:29) of God’s people!
(1.) The limited design in the Atonement follows, necessarily, from the eternal choice of the Father of certain ones unto salvation. The Scriptures inform us that, before the Lord became incarnate He said, “Lo, I come, to do Thy will O God” (Heb. 10:7), and after He had become incarnate He declared, “For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38). If then God had from the beginning chosen certain ones to salvation, then, because the will of Christ was in perfect accord with the will of the Father, He would not seek to enlarge upon His election. What we have just said is not merely a plausible deduction of our own, but is in strict harmony with the express teaching of the Word. Again and again our Lord referred to those whom the Father had “given” Him, and concerning whom He was particularly exercised. Said He, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. . . . And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:37, 39). And again, “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee; As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him. . . .I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gayest them Me; and they have kept Thy Word. . . . I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. . . . Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:1, 2, 6, 9, 24). Before the foundation of the world the Father predestinated a people to be conformed to the image of His Son, and the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus was in order to the carrying out of the Divine purpose.
(2.) The very nature of the Atonement evidences that, in its application to sinners, it was limited in the purpose of God. The Atonement of Christ may be considered from two chief viewpoints—Godward and manward. Godwards, the Cross-work of Christ was a propitiation, an appeasing of Divine wrath, a satisfaction rendered to Divine justice and holiness; manwards, it was a substitution, the Innocent taking the place of the guilty, the Just dying for the unjust. But a strict substitution of a Person for persons, and the infliction upon Him of voluntary sufferings, involve the definite recognition on the part of the Substitute and of the One He is to propitiate of the persons for whom He acts, whose sins He bears, whose legal obligations He discharges. Furthermore, if the Law-giver accepts the satisfaction which is made by the Substitute then those for whom the Substitute acts, whose place He takes, must necessarily be acquitted. If I am in debt and unable to discharge it and another comes forward and pays my creditor in full and receives a receipt in acknowledgment, then, in the sight of the law, my creditor no longer has any claim upon me. On the Cross the Lord Jesus gave Himself a ransom, and that it was accepted by God was attested by the open grave three days later; the question we would here raise is, For whom was this ransom offered? If it was offered for all mankind then the debt incurred by every man has been cancelled. If Christ bore in His own body on the tree the sins of all men without exception, then none will perish. If Christ was “made a curse” for all of Adam’s race then none are now “under condemnation.” “Payment God cannot twice demand, first at my bleeding Surety’s hand and then again at mine.” But Christ did not discharge the debt of all men without exception, for some there are who will be “cast into prison” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:19 where the same Greek word for “prison” occurs), and they shall “by no means come out thence, till they have paid the uttermost farthing” (Matt. 5:26), which, of course, will never be. Christ did not bear the sins of all mankind, for some there are who “die in their sins” (John 8:21), and whose “sin remaineth” (John 9:41). Christ was not “made a curse” for all of Adam’s race, for some there are to whom He will yet say, “Depart from Me ye cursed” (Matt. 25:41). To say that Christ died for all alike, to say that He became the Substitute and Surety of the whole human race, to say that He suffered on behalf of and in the stead of all mankind, is to say that He “bore the curse for many who are now bearing the curse for themselves; that He suffered punishment for many who are now lifting up their own eyes in Hell, being in torments; that He paid the redemption price for many who shall yet pay in their own eternal anguish ‘the wages of sin, which is death’” (G. S. Bishop). But, on the other hand, to say as Scripture says, that Christ was stricken for the transgressions of God’s people, to say that He gave His life for the sheep, to say that He gave His life a ransom for many, is to say that He made an atonement which fully atones; it is to say He paid a price which actually ransoms; it is to say He was set forth a propitiation which really propitiates; it is to say He is a Saviour who truly saves.
(3.) Closely connected with, and confirmatory of what we have said above, is the teaching of Scripture concerning our Lord’s priesthood. It is as the great High Priest that Christ now makes intercession. But for whom does He intercede? for the whole human race, or only for His own people? The answer furnished by the New Testament to this question is clear as a sunbeam. Our Saviour has entered into heaven itself “now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24), that is, for those who are “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1). And again it is written, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them”(Heb. 7:25). This is in strict accord with the Old Testament type. After slaying the sacrificial animal, Aaron went into the holy of holies as the representative and on behalf of the people of God: it was the names of Israel’s tribes which were engraven on his breastplate, and it was in their interests he appeared before God. Agreeable to this are our Lord’s words in John 17:9—“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.” Another Scripture which deserves careful attention in this connection is found in Romans 8. In verse 33 the question is asked, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” and then follows the inspired answer— “It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Note particularly that the death and intercession of Christ have one and the same objects! As it was in the type so it is with the antitype—expiation and supplication are co-extensive. If then Christ intercedes for the elect only, and “not for the world,” then He died for them only. And observe further, that the death, resurrection, exaltation and intercession of the Lord Jesus, are here assigned as the reason why none can lay any “charge” against God’s elect. Let those who would still take issue with what we are advancing weigh carefully the following question—If the death of Christ extends equally to all, how does it become security against a “charge,” seeing that all who believe not are “under condemnation”? (John 3:18).
(4.) The number of those who share the benefits of Christ’s death is determined not only by the nature of the Atonement and the priesthood of Christ but also by His power. Grant that the One who died upon the cross was God manifest in the flesh, and it follows inevitably that what Christ has purposed that will He perform; that what He has purchased that will He possess; that what He has set His heart upon that will He secure. If the Lord Jesus possesses all power in heaven and earth, then none can successfully resist His will. But it may be said, This is true in the abstract, nevertheless, Christ refuses to exercise this power, inasmuch as He will never force anyone to receive Him as their Saviour. In one sense that is true, but in another sense it is positively untrue. The salvation of any sinner is a matter of Divine power. By nature the sinner is at enmity with God, and naught but Divine power operating within him, can overcome this enmity; hence it is written, “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). It is the Divine power overcoming the sinner’s innate enmity which makes him willing to come to Christ that he might have life. But this “enmity” is not overcome in all—why? Is it because the enmity is too strong to be overcome? Are there some hearts so steeled against Him that Christ is unable to gain entrance? To answer in the affirmative is to deny His omnipotence. In the final analysis it is not a question of the sinner’s willingness or unwillingness, for by nature all are unwilling. Willingness to come to Christ is the finished product of Divine power operating in the human heart and will in overcoming man’s inherent and chronic “enmity,” as it is written, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power” (Ps. 110:3). To say that Christ is unable to win to Himself those who are unwilling is to deny that all power in heaven and earth is His. To say that Christ cannot put forth His power without destroying man’s responsibility is a begging of the question here raised, for He has put forth His power and made willing those who have come to Him, and if He did this without destroying their responsibility, why “cannot” He do so with others? If He is able to win the heart of one sinner to Himself, why not that of another? To say, as is usually said, the others will not let Him is to impeach His sufficiency. It is a question of His will. If the Lord Jesus has decreed, desired, purposed the salvation of all mankind, then the entire human race will be saved, or, otherwise, He lacks the power to make good His intentions; and in such a case it could never be said, “He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.”The issue raised involves the deity of the Saviour, for a defeated Saviour cannot be God.
Having reviewed some of the general principles which require us to believe that the death of Christ was limited in its design, we turn now to consider some of the explicit statements of Scripture which expressly affirm it. In that wondrous and matchless fifty-third of Isaiah God tells us concerning His Son, “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of My people was He stricken”(v. 8). In perfect harmony with this was the word of the angel to Joseph, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21) i.e. not merely Israel, but all whom the Father had “given” Him. Our Lord Himself declared, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many”(Matt. 20:28), but why have said “for many” if all without exception were included? It was “His people” whom He “redeemed” (Luke 1:68). It was for “the sheep,” and not the “goats”, that the Good Shepherd gave His life (John 10:11). It was the “Church of God” which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
If there is one Scripture more than any other upon which we should be willing to rest our case it is John 11:49-52. Here we are told, “And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” Here we are told that Caiaphas “prophesied not of himself,” that is, like those employed by God in Old Testament times (see 2 Pet. 1:21), his prophecy originated not with himself, but he spake as he was moved by the Holy Spirit; thus is the value of his utterance carefully guarded, and the Divine source of this revelation expressly vouched for. Here, too, we are definitely informed that Christ died for “that nation,” i.e., Israel, and also for the One Body, His Church, for it is into the Church that the children of God—“scattered” among the nations—are now being “gathered together in one.” And is it not remarkable that the members of the Church are here called “children of God” even before Christ died, and therefore before He commenced to build His Church! The vast majority of them had not then been born, yet were they regarded as “children of God;” children of God because they had been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and therefore “predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph. 1:4, 5). In like manner, Christ said, “Other sheep I have (not “shall have”) which are not of this fold” (John 10:16).
If ever the real design of the Cross was uppermost in the heart and speech of our blessed Saviour it was during the last week of His earthly ministry. What then do the Scriptures which treat of this portion of His ministry record in connection with our present inquiry? They say, “When Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). They tell us how He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13). They record His word, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19); which means, that for the sake of His own, those “given” to Him by the Father, He separated Himself unto the death of the Cross. One may well ask, Why such discrimination of terms if Christ died for all men indiscriminately?
Ere closing this section of the chapter we shall consider briefly a few of those passages which seem to teach most strongly an unlimited design in the death of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 we read, “One died for all.” But that is not all this Scripture affirms. If the entire verse and passage from which these words are quoted be carefully examined, it will be found that instead of teaching an unlimited atonement, it emphatically argues a limited design in the death of Christ. The whole verse reads, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead.” It should be pointed out that in the Greek there is the definite article before the last “all,” and that the verb here is in the aorist tense, and therefore should read, “We thus judge: that if One died for all, then they all died.” The apostle is here drawing a conclusion as is clear from the words “we thus judge, that if . . . then were.” His meaning is, that those for whom the One died are regarded, judicially, as having died too. The next verse goes on to say, “And He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” The One not only died but “rose again,” and so, too, did the “all” for whom He died, for it is here said they “live.” Those for whom a substitute acts are legally regarded as having acted themselves. In the sight of the law the substitute and those whom he represents are one. So it is in the sight of God. Christ was identified with His people and His people were identified with Him, hence when He died they died (judicially) and when He rose they rose also. But further we are told in this passage (v. 17), that if any man be in Christ he is a new creation; he has received a new life in fact as well as in the sight of the law, hence the “all” for whom Christ died are here bidden to live henceforth no more unto themselves, “but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” In other words, those who belonged to this “all” for whom Christ died, are here exhorted to manifest practically in their daily lives what is true of them judicially: they are to “live unto Christ who died for them.” Thus the “One died for all” is defined for us. The “all” for which Christ died are the they which “live,” and which are here bidden to live “unto Him.” This passage then teaches three important truths, and the better to show its scope we mention them in their inverse order: certain ones are here bidden to live no more unto themselves but unto Christ; the ones thus admonished are “they which live,” that is live spiritually, hence, the children of God, for they alone of mankind possess spiritual life, all others being dead in trespasses and sins; those who do thus live are the ones, the “all,” the “them,” for whom Christ died and rose again. This passage therefore teaches that Christ died for all His people, the elect, those given to Him by the Father; that as the result of His death (and rising again “for them”) they “live”—and the elect are the only ones who do thus “live;” and this life which is theirs through Christ must be lived “unto Him,” Christ’s love must now “constrain” them.
“For there is one God, and one Mediator, between God and men (not “man”, for this would have been a generic term and signified mankind. O the accuracy of Holy Writ!), the Man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Tim. 2:5, 6). It is upon the words “who gave Himself a ransom for all” we would now comment. In Scripture the word “all” (as applied to humankind) is used in two senses—absolutely and relatively. In some passages it means all without exception; in others it signifies all without distinction. As to which of these meanings it bears in any particular passage, must be determined by the context and decided by a comparison of parallel Scriptures. That the word “all” is used in a relative and restricted sense, and in such case means all without distinction and not all without exception, is clear from a number of Scriptures, from which we select two or three as samples. “And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). Does this mean that every man, woman and child from “all the land of Judea and they of Jerusalem” were baptized of John in Jordan? Surely not. Luke 7:30 distinctly says, “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” Then what does “all baptized of him” mean? We answer it does not mean all without exception, but all without distinction, that is, all classes and conditions of men. The same explanation applies to Luke 3:21. Again we read, “And early in the morning He came again into the Temple, and all the people came unto Him; and He sat down, and taught them” (John 8:2); are we to understand this expression absolutely or relatively? Does “all the people” mean all without exception or all without distinction, that is, all classes and conditions of people? Manifestly the latter; for the Temple was not able to accommodate everybody that was in Jerusalem at this time, namely, the Feast of Tabernacles. Again, we read in Acts 22:15, “For thou (Paul) shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.” Surely “all men” here does not mean every member of the human race. Now we submit that the words “who gave Himself a ransom for all” in 1 Timothy 2:6 mean all without distinction, and not all without exception. He gave Himself a ransom for men of all nationalities, of all generations, of all classes; in a word, for all the elect, as we read in Revelation 5:9, “For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” That this is not an arbitrary definition of the “all” in our passage is clear from Matthew 20:28 where we read, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many”, which limitation would be quite meaningless if He gave Himself a ransom for all without exception. Furthermore, the qualifying words here, “to be testified in due time”, must be taken into consideration. If Christ gave Himself a ransom for the whole human race, in what sense will this be “testified in due time”? seeing that multitudes of men will certainly be eternally lost. But if our text means that Christ gave Himself a ransom for God’s elect, for all without distinction, without distinction of nationality, social prestige, moral character, age or sex, then the meaning of these qualifying words is quite intelligible, for in “due time” this will be “testified” in the actual and accomplished salvation of every one of them.
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). This passage need not detain us long. A false doctrine has been erected here on a false translation. There is no word whatever in the Greek corresponding to “man” in our English version. In the Greek it is left in the abstract—”He tasted death for every.” The Revised Version has correctly omitted “man” from the text, but has wrongly inserted it in italics. Others suppose the word “thing” should be supplied—“He tasted death for every thing” —but this, too, we deem a mistake. It seems to us that the words which immediately follow explain our text: “For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” It is of “sons” the apostle is here writing, and we suggest an ellipsis of “son”—thus: “He tasted death for every”—and supply son in italics. Thus instead of teaching the unlimited design of Christ’s death, Hebrews 2:9, 10 is in perfect accord with the other Scriptures we have quoted which set forth the restricted purpose in the Atonement: it was for the “sons” and not the human race our Lord “tasted death” (1 John 2:2 will be examined in detail in Appendix 4).
In closing this section of the chapter let us say that the only limitation in the Atonement we have contended for arises from pure sovereignty; it is a limitation not of value and virtue, but of design and application.