IN I JOHN 2:2
Study on the Extent of the Atonement)
Dr. Gary D. Long
In discussing the
design or extent of the atonement, there are three key doctrinal
terms which are related to the priestly sacrifice of Christ on earth,
that is, to the finished work of Christ. These terms are redemption,
propitiation and reconciliation. Evangelical Arminians and Calvinistic
"four point" universalists or modified Calvinists1
hold that there is a universal design of the atonement which provides
salvation for all mankind without exception or which places all
of Adam's posterity in a savable state. They contend that there
is a twofold application of these three doctrinal terms — an actual
application for those who believe, a provisional application for
those who die in unbelief. The historic "five point" or
consistent Calvinist2 asserts that these terms have no
substitutionary reference with respect to the non-elect. In contrast
to the former who hold to an indefinite atonement, the consistent
Calvinist, who holds to a definite atonement, sees no purpose, benefit
or comfort in a redemption that does not redeem, a propitiation
that does not propitiate or a reconciliation that does not reconcile,
which would be the case if these terms were applicable to the non-elect.
For those who have wrestled with the
extent of the atonement, they are acutely aware that there are three
problem verses3 which the five point Calvinist must scripturally
answer if he is to consistently sustain a biblical position before
the modified Calvinist that the saving design of the atonement is
intended by the triune God only for the elect. These verses are
II Peter 2:1, which pertains to redemption; I John 2:2, which pertains
to propitiation; and II Corinthians 5:19, which pertains to reconciliation.
If the particular redemptionist can scripturally establish in any
of these verses that God's design of the atonement does not extend
to the non-elect, then the theological case for the unlimited redemptionist
crumples. In summary, if universal propitiation in I John 2:2 cannot
be biblically established, then what purpose does a universal redemption
in II Peter 2:1 or a universal reconciliation in II Corinthians
5:19 serve? Can it be true that God the Son redeemed the non-elect
for whom God the Father's wrath will never be propitiated (satisfied
or appeased) by virtue of Christ's death or that God the Father
has been reconciled by virtue of Christ's death to the non-elect
upon whom His condemning wrath eternally abides (John 3:36)?
The purpose of this doctrinal appendix
(the second in a series by the author on problem verses relating
to the extent of the atonement) is to theologically approach I John
2:2, which relates to propitiation — the second of the three major
doctrinal terms. May those who have believed through grace find
this appendix of much help in their doctrinal study of the Word
Propitiation in the New
The term "propitiation"
(hilasmos) means "satisfaction," "appeasement."
Theologically, propitiation means that God's wrath against sin,
demanded by His justice, is appeased on account of the death of
Christ for sinners.
four primary references in the New Testament where the word "propitiation"
is used (cf. Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Three of the
four references clearly teach that propitiation is strictly limited
to a definite people, namely, the elect of God.
3:25 states that God set forth Christ "a propitiation through
faith in his blood." From this reference it may be observed
that, if Christ is a propitiation "through faith,"4
He cannot be a propitiation to those who never have faith,
and "all men have not faith" (II Thess. 3:2).
2:17 states that Christ was made a "merciful and faithful high
priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation (should
be translated propitiation) for the sins of the people." In
context, "the people," are identified as the "children
which God hath given" Christ, (v. 13), "the seed of Abraham"
(v. 16). Are not "the people" of verse 17 also to be identified
with the "many sons" in verse 10 and the "every man"
in verse 9 for whom "by the grace of God he should taste death"?
I John 4:10 reveals the motivating
cause of propitiation. "Herein is love, not that we loved God,
but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for
our sins."5 The propitiation is restricted here
to the definite pronouns, "we," "us," and "our";
that is, to believers, God's elect. Therefore, it is concluded that
at least three of the four major passages on propitiation are restricted
in design to God's elect.
I John 2:2
Concerning I John
2:2, Calvinistic universalists say it teaches two aspects of propitiation.
There is a propitiation which affects
God in His relation to the kosmos — with no reference to
the elect — and one which affects His relation to the elect. This
twofold propitiation is set forth in I John 2:2.6
The sum of the four point Calvinist position
is that Christ is said, in some sense, to be the propitiation for
the sins of the whole world, meaning all mankind without exception.
This, according to another Calvinistic universalist, is "the
normal unbiased approach to this text."7
meaning and nature of propitiation is not a matter of disagreement
between four and five point Calvinists. The issue lies in the extent
of propitiation as taught in I John 2:2. Much has been written concerning
both sides of the issue. An examination of these writings reveals
that the crux of the difference hinges upon the term "whole
world." The four point Calvinists say the meaning is obvious.
The words themselves, they say, without any wresting, signify all
men in the world, that is, world means world. John Owen, the Puritan,
writes, concerning the dogmatism with which the modified Calvinists
assert their "darling"8 proof for unlimited
atonement, by saying:
The world, the whole world, all,
all men! — who can oppose it? Call them [the modified Calvinists]
to the context in the several places where the words are; appeal
to rules of interpretation; mind them of the circumstances and
scope of the place, the sense of the same words in other places;
. . . [and] they. . . cry out, the bare word, the letter is
theirs: "Away with the gloss and interpretation; give us
[the modified Calvinists] leave to believe what the word expressly
Biblical Universal Terminology
That I John 2:2
contains universal language is evident from the term "whole
world." John 3:16 also uses the universal term "world"
in the same manner. It is clear, therefore, that there is a biblical
or divine universalism taught in Scripture. However, the issue does
not center on the fact that universal terminology is used. It centers
on the meaning or interpretation of that terminology.
Four Interpretations of the Term "Whole
The major views
which are universalistic in their interpretation of "whole
world" in I John 2:2 will be discussed under the following
four systematic headings: "generical," "geographical,"
"eschatological," and "ethnological."
The Generical Interpretation
The generical interpretation
of I John 2:2 is held by those who believe that Christ's atonement
was unlimited in design for the whole human race. Their usual interpretation
of the text is that Christ "is the propitiation for our sins
(meaning believers), and not for ours only, but also for the sins
of the whole world (including the non-elect)." This view interprets
"whole world" to mean all men generically or universally,
that is, each and every member of Adam's race. Therefore, propitiation
for the sins of the world does not save the world; rather it only
"secures the possibility of salvation."10 Furthermore,
this view distinguishes between the advocacy and propitiatory work
of Christ in I John 2:1,2 and associates actual salvation only with
Christ's advocacy. This means that Christ's propitiation on earth
was and is universal for all men — both the elect and non-elect alike.
His advocacy in heaven, however, is restricted for those only who
believe in Him. The contingency of one's salvation, therefore, rests
upon man and the so-called "condition of faith."11
In other words, what now brings unbelievers into condemnation is
not their sins — God has been satisfied for them by the blood of Christ
the sin of rejecting Christ as the divinely appointed mediator of
salvation. But Warfield rightly objects to this by saying:
Is not the rejection of Jesus as
our propitiation a sin? And if it is a sin, is it not like other
sins, covered by the death of Christ? If this great sin is excepted
from the expiatory [effectual covering] of Christ's blood, why
did not John tell us so, instead of declaring without qualification
that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not
for ours only but for the whole world? And surely it would be
very odd if the sin of rejection of the Redeemer were the only
condemning sin, in a world the vast majority of the dwellers
in which have never heard of this Redeemer, and nevertheless
perish. On what ground do they perish, all their sins having
There are a number of observations that can be
made in objection to the generical or universal interpretation of
I John 2:2. Some of the more significant ones immediately follow,
others will be mentioned in the discussion under the geographical,
eschatological and ethnological subheadings.
Terminological objection. — The first observation
made in objection to the generical view concerns the use of the
term "world" (kosmos) in the New Testament. That
kosmos can and does have more than the meaning of all mankind generically
cannot be denied (cf. John 1:10,11; 3:17; 12:31; 17:6,9,1 l,18,21,23,24).13
In fact kosmos, as effectually demonstrated in Owen's
work,14 has many uses and meanings — the usual meaning
being "many of mankind."
to the New Testament Greek text, kosmos occurs about 185
times. It is used some 105 times by the apostle John, 47 times by
Paul and 33 times by other writers. With the use of a concordance,
it is readily observed that kosmos is never used by Paul
or the other writers to mean all mankind generically in a salvation
context unless John's usage is the exception. It is used of all
mankind universally in a context of sin and judgment (Rom. 3:6,
19; 5:12), but never in a salvation context.
John's writings, kosmos is used a total of 78 times in his
gospel, 23 times in I John and 4 times in II John and Revelation.
A check of each of these references, in context, reveals that there
are perhaps, at the most, eleven occurrences in ten verses which
could possibly, even according to Arminianism, mean all mankind
generically in a salvation context. These occurrences are found
in John 1:29; 3:16; two times in 3:17; once each in John 4:42; 6:33,
51; 12:47; 16:8 and once each in I John 2:2 and 4:14.
the possible usage of kosmos to mean all mankind without
exception in the redemptive context of I John 2:2, let the reader
observe that kosmos is used differently at least 21 out of 23 times
elsewhere in the epistle. As a matter of fact, the identical term
"whole world" is used in I John 5:19 where it cannot possibly
mean all mankind absolutely. John writes: "we know that we
are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness (in the wicked
one)." Can this be true of the believer who is in Christ? Let
the reader judge. If the term "whole world" in I John
2:2 means all mankind generically, it is an exceptional usage in
the epistle (objectively, only in I John 2:2 and 4:14 could it possibly
refer to all mankind without exception — two times out of 23 occurrences).
Therefore, it is the writer's contention that the burden of proof
rests upon those who interpret "whole world" generically
to establish that the term means all mankind in any redemptive context,
let alone I John 2:2. In the writer's research he has not found
any writer who holds to an indefinite atonement attempting to do
this; rather the term is always said to mean, in a "normal
and unbiased approach," the whole world, meaning all mankind,15
both the elect and the non-elect.
Logical objection. — The second observation
made in objection to the generical view is logical. It is based
upon the principle of the analogy of faith and relates to the design
of propitiation from the standpoint of the special and distinguishing
love of God. The fact that Christ's blood was an appeasement of
God's wrath, in order that the chief purpose of God's love might
be manifested, demands Christ's death. But if God's giving His Son
is a manifesting of His special distinguishing love (and it is),
and if "He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for
us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things"
(Rom. 8:32)? The answer to this question should be obvious. The
term "whole world" cannot refer to all mankind generically
in a salvation context, for the non-elect do not receive all or
any of the gifts of saving grace which (according to Rom. 8:32)
is assured to them if, in reality, Christ actually died for them.
Do all men have faith (II Thess. 3:2)?16
Contextual objection. — A third observation
made in objection to the generical view lies in the fact that the
context of I John 2:2 teaches that Christ's advocacy and propitiation
are the same in design and extent. This is supported by the coordinating
conjunction "and," which connects verse 2 with verse 1.
Certainly no Calvinistic universalist is willing to admit that Christ's
advocacy actually extends to the non-elect. How, then, can propitiation
be absolutely universal if Christ's advocacy is not? In an attempt
to explain this objection, those who hold to the generical interpretation
intimate that it is Christ's advocacy in heaven which particularizes
His propitiation on earth and makes it efficacious before the Father.
They say that
propitiation is conceived as merely
laying a basis for actual forgiveness of sins, and is spoken
of therefore rather as "sufficient" than efficacious—becoming
efficacious only through the act of faith on the part of the
believer, by which he secures Christ as his Advocate.17
But this attempted explanation empties the conception
of propitiation from its biblical meaning and shifts the saving
operation of Christ from His atoning death on earth to His intercession
in heaven. However, as Warfield points out,
no support is given this elaborate
construction by John; and our present passage is enough to shatter
the foundation on which it is built. . . . The "advocacy"
of our Lord is indeed based here on his propitiation. But it
is based on it not as if it bore merely an accidental relation
to it, . . . but as its natural and indeed necessary issue.
John introduces the declaration that Christ is—not "was,"
the propitiation is as continuous in its effect as the advocacy—our
propitiation, in order to support his reference of sinning Christians
to Christ as their Advocate with the Father, and to give them
confidence in the efficacy of his advocacy. The efficacy of
the advocacy rests on that of the propitiation, not the efficacy
of the propitiation on that of the advocacy. It was in the propitiatory
death of Christ that John finds Christ's saving work: the advocacy
is only its continuation—its unceasing presentation in heaven.
The propitiation accordingly not merely lays a foundation for
a saving operation, to follow or not follow as circumstances
may determine. It itself saves. And this saving work is common
to Christians and "the whole world." By it the sins
of the one as of the other are expiated. . . . They no longer
exist for God and are not they blessed whose iniquities are
forgiven, and whose sins are covered, to whom the Lord will
not reckon sin?18
Grammatical objection. — The fourth observation
made in objection to the generical view is grammatical. One contemporary
Calvinistic universalist attempts to explain Christ's suffering
for the sins of both the elect and non-elect by saying that His
suffering was retroactive to Adam's fall and potentially available
(a better term would be hypothetically available) for the non-elect
both before and after the cross.19 He explains I John
2:2 by saying that Christ
is the propitiation for our sins,"
which means He is the actual propitiation for [believers' sins
through faith]. . . . But we are also told that He is the propitiation
"for the sins of the whole world,". . [which] means
that He is the potential propitiation only [for the non-elect];
otherwise the Apostle would have been teaching universalism.20
Is this not an example of exegetical hopscotch
by a Calvinistic hypothetical universalist? But what does I John
2:2 actually say? It says that Christ "is (estin) the
propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the
sins of the whole world." The text does not say that
Christ is potentially the propitiation for "our sins
and "the sins of the whole world."21
Biblical objection. — The fifth and final
observation made in objection to the generical view concerns the
use of the term "propitiation" in Romans 3:25, Hebrews
2:17 and I John 4:10. In each of these references, propitiation
is restricted to believers, that is, to God's elect. Furthermore,
when dealing with a problem text, the principle of interpretation
which requires one to determine the usage of a word or term as it
is used elsewhere must not be ignored or slighted, especially when
it is used elsewhere by the same author. Yet this is done by those
who hold to generic universalism, for they do not mention the extent
of propitiation in its other occurrences when they discuss the extent
in I John 2:2. Both the modified and consistent Calvinists admit
that there is some ambiguity in the interpretation of I John 2:2;
otherwise there would not be the great theological controversy between
them over the meaning of this verse. Is it not proper, then, for
I John 4:10 also to be considered to determine if it will help remove
some of the ambiguity? Does I John 4:10 help do this? "Herein
is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his
Son to be the propitiation for our sins." May the reader decide
if this verse is helpful in understanding the extent of the atonement
in general and the extent of propitiation in I John 2:2 in particular.
The Geographical Interpretation
The second explanation
of the universal terminology in I John 2:2 is that termed under
the heading of "geographical universalism." This view
interprets "and he is the propitiation for our sins" as
referring to the recipients of John's epistle, that is, those believers
living in Asia Minor. It interprets the latter part of the verse
"and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole
world" as referring to those Christians everywhere outside
Asia Minor who confess their sins to Christ their advocate. This
view is close to that of Augustine, Calvin and Beza
who understand by "the whole
world" "the churches of the elect dispersed through
the whole world"; and by the declaration that Jesus Christ
is "a propitiation for the whole world," that in his
blood all the sins of all believers throughout the world are
While the geographical view has much scriptural
merit and is certainly in harmony with reality, it seems that the
term "whole world" conveys something beyond "the
world of believers outside Asia Minor." In other words, it
seems to be more than just a geographical distinction. In the writer's
judgment this something else is explained by the following two interpretations.
The Eschatological Interpretation
The third interpretation
of the universal terminology in I John 2:2 is that view termed "eschatological
universalism," the future world that is saved at the second
coming of Christ, which will include all the elect from all ages.
This is the view set forth by Warfield and has much to commend it.
In John 1:29, 3:17 and 12:47, John declares that the mission of
the Son in coming into the world is not only to save individuals
but to save the world itself. "Behold the Lamb of God, which
taketh away the sin of the world." This, however, will not
come to pass until the eschatological future, at the end time, when
God's redemptive plan is complete. Then, and then only, will there
be a saved world. Concerning this view, Warfield writes:
It is the great conception which
John is reflecting in the phrase, "he is the propitiation
for our sins, and not for ours only but for the whole world."
This must not be diluted into the notion that he came to offer
salvation to the world, or to do his part toward the salvation
of the world, or to lay such a basis for salvation that it is
the world's fault if it is not saved. John's thinking does not
run on such lines; and what he actually says is something very
different, namely that Jesus Christ is a propitiation for the
whole world, that he has expiated the whole world's sins. He
came into the world because of love of the world, in order that
he might save the world, and he actually saves the world. Where
the expositors have gone astray is in not perceiving that this
salvation of the world was not conceived by John — any more than
the salvation of the individual — as accomplishing itself all
at once. Jesus came to save the world, and the world will through
him be saved; at the end of the day he will have a saved world
to present to his father. John's mind is running forward to
the completion of his saving work; and he is speaking of his
Lord from the point of view of this completed work. From that
point of view he is the Savior of the world. . . . He proclaims
Jesus the Savior of the world and declares him a propitiation
for the whole world. He is a universalist; he teaches the salvation
of the whole world. But he is not an "each and every"
universalist: he is an "eschatological" universalist.23
In Warfield's exposition24
of the term "world" in I John 2:2, he discusses his eschatological
universalism view and what this writer has systematically termed
"generical" and "geographical" universalism.
However, he does not mention or discuss the fourth and following
interpretation, namely, that termed "ethnological universalism."
Although, in this writer's judgment, Warfield's eschatological universalism
adequately explains John 1:29, 3:17 and 12:47 (there will be a future
world in which all the sins of that world will be taken away), it
does not seem, as presented by Warfield, to fully account for the
contextual meaning of kosmos in John 3:16 or in I John 2:2.
The Ethnological Interpretation
interpretation asserts that the term "world" in both I
John 2:2 and John 3:16, although including the geographical and
eschatological views, also stresses that some without distinction,
not all without exception, out of the Gentiles as well as out of
the Jews (Rom. 9:24) have had their sins propitiated by the death
of Christ. It is as though the Lord were saying: "The Jews,
Nicodemus, no longer have a national monopoly on the salvation of
Jehovah. Do you not, Nicodemus, remember the words of the prophet
Isaiah who said, 'I will also give the Holy One of Israel for a
light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the
end of the earth' (Isa. 49:6)? Nicodemus, did not the psalmist prophesy
of me when he said, 'therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord,
among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name' (Ps. 18:49)?"
Did not "the apostles and brethren that were in Judea,"
when "they heard that the Gentiles had also received the word
of God," declare: "then hath God also to the Gentiles
granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18)? Is not the term
"world" used of the Gentiles by the apostle Paul in Romans
11:11,12,15? Certainly it is. Is it used absolutely (meaning all
Gentiles without exception) or is it used relatively (meaning all
Gentiles without distinction)? Relative, otherwise Christ's teaching
on hell would be erroneous. But if kosmos refers to Gentiles
in a relative sense in Romans 11 (and it does), is this how the
apostle John uses it in I John 2:2? The writer believes it is. But
can it be established whether John, who was probably writing from
Ephesus in Asia Minor, was writing first of all to Jewish believers
in his epistle while living in a Gentile environment? Arthur Pink
cites four convincing reasons that he was. They are:
(1) In the opening verse he says
of Christ, "Which we have seen with our eyes. . . and our
hands have handled." How impossible it would have been
for the apostle Paul to have commenced any of his epistles
to Gentile saints with such language! (2) "Brethren,
I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment
which ye had from the beginning" (I John
2:7). The "beginning" here referred to is the beginning
of the public manifestation of Christ—in proof compare 1:1,
2:13, etc. Now these believers, the apostle tells us, had
the "old commandment" from the beginning.
This was true of Jewish believers, but it was not true
of Gentile believers. (3) "I write unto you, fathers,
because ye have known Him from the beginning" (2:13). Here,
again, it is evident that it is Jewish believers that
are in view. (4) "Little children, it is the last time:
and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even
now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the
last time. They went out from us, but they were
not of us" (2:18,19). These brethren to whom John wrote
had "heard" from Christ Himself that Antichrist
should come (see Matt. 24). The "many antichrists"
whom John declares "went out from us" were
all Jews, for during the first century none but a Jew
posed as the Messiah. Therefore, when John says "He is
the propitiation for our sins," he can only mean for the
sins of Jewish believers. (It is true that many things
in John's Epistle apply equally to believing Jews and believing
Gentiles. Christ is the Advocate of the one, as much as of the
Furthermore, when John added, "and not for
ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world," he signified
Christ was the propitiation for the
sins of the Gentile believers too, for, . . . "the
world" is a term contrasted from Israel. This interpretation
is unequivocally established by a careful comparison of I John
2:2 with John 11:51,52, which is a strictly parallel passage:
"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 Caiaphas, under inspiration, made known for whom
Jesus should "die." Notice now the correspondency
of his prophecy with this declaration of John's: "He is
the propitiation for our (believing Israelites) sins."
"He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation."
"And not for ours only." "And not for that nation
only." "But also for the whole world"—that is,
Gentile believers scattered throughout the earth. "He should
gather together in one the children of God that were scattered
The reader will
have to judge for himself which of the four universalistic interpretations
of I John 2:2 is the most biblical. For this writer the ethnological
view best interprets the meaning of the immediate and general context.
It is the writer's position along with most historic Calvinists
that in the first part of I John 2:2
the believing Jews alone are
intended, of whom John was one; and the addition [last part
of the verse] is not an extending of the propitiation of Christ
to others than believers, but only to other believers
[i.e., Gentile believers]. If it might be granted that in the
first branch [first part of the verse] all believers then living
were comprehended, who might presently be made partakers of
this truth geographical view], yet the increase or accession
[last part of the verse] must be, by analogy, only those who
were to be in after ages [eschatological view] and remoter
places than the name of Christ had then reached unto, — even all
those who, according to the prayer of our Savior, John xvii.
20, should believe on his name to the end of the world.27
It can be readily
seen from this interpretation that the geographical and eschatological
views are both included within the ethnological interpretation.
The geographical view is included by its very nature; that is, that
God's elect are scattered among the Jews and Gentiles throughout
the whole world. And it should be apparent that the ethnological
and eschatological views are closely related as seen in John 3:16,17,
where both are consecutively set forth. But Warfield's eschatological
view, by itself, tends to minimize the geographical or world-wide
aspect of Christ's atonement and fails to mention the ethnological
view. Although all three views are in harmony with the scriptural
doctrine of election, it is this writer's conclusion that the geographical
and eschatological views do not, by themselves, fully answer the
intention of the apostle John in I John 2:2. Rather it seems that
John wants to make it clear to his readers in this verse (as well
as John 3:16) that the Old Testament particularism in relation to
the nation of Israel is now past, so he uses the universal term
"whole world," Christ has now brought in the New Covenant
and has prepared the way for New Testament universalism—a divine
universalism which teaches that Messiah is the saviour of the spiritual
seed of Abraham, who testify in' due season28 that they are none
other than Christ's ransomed ones, God's elect. It is for this very
reason that the sovereign grace ambassador of Christ knows that
God will make "known the riches of his glory on the vessels
of mercy" by calling them out "not of the Jews only, but
also of the Gentiles" (Rom. 9:23,24). Therefore, he carries
out the great commission with full assurance and much boldness,
enduring "all things for the elect's sake, that they may also
obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory"
(II Tim. 2:10).
- For a description of Evangelical Arminians
and Calvinistic "four point" universalists or modified
Calvinists, see Note No. 1 to the Introduction of Appendix I,
the first in a doctrinal series by the author on problem verses
relating to the extent of the atonement.
- See Note No.2 to the Introduction of
- Those who are theologically opposed
to historic Calvinism should not hasten to the conclusion that
the admission of problem verses by the five point Calvinist
diminishes his theological proof for definite atonement anymore
than the admission of problem verses (and there are many) by
the four point Calvinist necessarily diminishes his theological
proof for indefinite atonement. The real issue centers upon
what does the Scripture actually teach, a definite or an indefinite
atonement? Practically speaking, it is evident that God, in
the wisdom of His providence, has not ordained that all true
believers should agree upon the extent of the atonement and
other important but non-central doctrines. Why He has so ordained
is ultimately a mystery to every child of God. We do learn,
however, from I Corinthians 11:19 that doctrinal differences
in the church are ordained by God "that they which are
approved may be made manifest." We also know that, in the
wisdom of God's providence, the day of the Lord will come, but
not before there is "a falling away first" and the
revealing of the "man of sin" (II Thess. 2:3). In
this sense, erring on important but non-central doctrines, such
as the design of the atonement, can ultimately have serious
consequences. As A. A. Hodge wrote over one hundred years ago:
"We do not object to Calvinistic Universalism. . . because
of any danger which — when considered as a final position —
orthodoxy. We distrust it rather because it is not a final position,
but is the first step in the easy descent of error." Archibald
Alexander Hodge, The Atonement (reprint of 1867 ed.;
Cherry Hill, N. J.: Mack Publishing Co., n.d.), p.238. A study
of the history of doctrine verifies Hodge's statement (e.g.,
cf. Spurgeon and the "Down-Grade Controversy" of 1887-92
in England or the theological erosion from Puritanism to Liberalism
within 150 years (1750-1900) in New England). For these reasons
the author is convinced that the doctrine of the extent of the
atonement is not to be viewed lightly. Historically, a departure
from definite atonement has been inseparably linked with a departure
from orthodox teaching on the doctrines of original sin and
substitutionary atonement. This, in-turn, has seriously affected
biblical evangelism and weakened the Christian's trust and assurance
in the one who declares: "I am the first, and the last;
and beside me there is no God" (Isa. 44:6), "beside
me there is no saviour" (Isa. 43:11). The author is not
so naive, however, as to believe that this series of doctrinal
appendixes will persuade any convinced Evangelical Arminian
or modified Calvinist that Christ's substitutionary atonement
was particular in design for saving the elect only with no saving
provision for the non-elect. Such a change in theological conviction
only comes from the Holy Spirit and, for reasons ultimately
known only to God, He does not in these last days appear to
be changing the convictions of large numbers of traditional
evangelical Christians whose existential minds are apparently
closed, not being in submission to the teaching of the whole
counsel of God, especially with reference to His sovereignty
and the particularistic design of the atonement. The author
does believe, however, that these doctrinal appendixes may help
many of those who have believed through grace and are open to
learning more about the doctrines of grace.
- The words "through faith"
are grammatically more naturally connected with "propitiation"
rather than with "being justified," "set forth"
or "through his blood." Hence, it is Christ Jesus
whom God has set forth as a propitiation to be received by faith
through his blood.
- Observe also that the love manifested
in I John 4:10 is the special love of God, which is the highest
form of His love expressed toward man. It is this special redemptive
love, the giving of Christ as a sacrifice, which is the motivating
cause of giving all the other gifts of saving grace, the "all
things" of Romans 8:32. The immediate context in Romans
8 teaches, among other things, that predestination, calling,
justification and glorification are included in the "all
things" of verse 32, that is, for all the Christians at
Rome and, by extension, for all true believers. Now, if this
be true (and it is according to context), is not saving faith
also included in the "all things"? Is one justified
by any other means than faith? No, not according to Scripture.
Therefore, if justification is included as one of the gifts
of saving grace in the "all things," then saving faith
must also be included. Clearly, this passage in Romans 8 limits
the extent of Christ's substitutionary death to God's elect.
- Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic
Theology (eight vols.; Dallas, Texas: Dallas Seminary Press,
1948), III, 95-96.
- Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ
Died—A Case for Unlimited Atonement (Des Plaines,
Illinois: Regular Baptist Press, 1967), p.81.
- John Owen, The Death of Death in
the Death of Christ (reprinted from Vol. X of Owen's Works,
published in 1852 by Johnstone and Hunter, Edinburgh, and ed.
by William H. Goold; London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1959),
- Chafer, Systematic Theology,
- Historic Calvinists use the theological
term "condition of faith" in a different sense than
that of Calvinistic universalists; that is, Christ did not die
for any upon condition, if they do believe, but He died
for all God's elect that they will believe and believing have
eternal life. Because saving faith itself is among the principal
effects and fruits of the death of Christ (see Note 5 above),
salvation is bestowed conditionally only as viewed by the lost
sinner. For him to experience salvation, he must believe; but
saving faith, which is the condition for man, is also absolutely
procured by Christ. Otherwise, if faith is not procured for
believers, then their salvation is not all of grace. When the
believer grows in grace and sees that the condition of faith
has been procured by Christ, then should he not cry out to God,
"O Lord, why me?"
- John E. Meeter (ed), Selected Shorter
Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (two vols.; Nutley, New
Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970-73),
- Those who hold to universal propitiation
in a generical sense are exhorted to refer to Owen's work (pp.189-95;
204-26) where he deals exhaustively with the terms "world,"
"whole world" and their equivalents. His arguments
for definite atonement in response to the generical interpretation
of such passages as John 3:16 and I John 2:2 are irrefutably
stated and, in the opinion of this writer, can never be biblically
disavowed because Owen's arguments are biblical.
- Ibid., pp.191-93. The reader is also
referred to Hendriksen's work for a study of John's use of the
term "world." Cf. William Hendriksen, A., Commentary
on the Gospel of John (two vols. in one; London: The Banner
of Truth Trust, 1954), I, 79.
- Lightner, The Death Christ Died,
- See Note 5, above.
- Meeter (ed.), Selected Shorter Writings,
- Ibid., pp. 173-74.
- Norman F. Douty, The Death Christ
Died, (Swengel, Pennsylvania: Reiner Publications, 1972),
- Ibid., pp.32-33.
- The verb "is', (estin)
is in the present tense and indicative mood (the mood of certainty
or reality) and governs both clauses in the verse. If Christ
is the potential propitiation for the non-elect, why was not
the subjunctive mood used (the mood of mild contingency or potentiality
which often assumes unreality depending, of course, on the context)?
Why does not contextual exegesis support the translation that
Christ is the potential propitiation of our sins and
the sins of the whole world? Douty simply does not address this
grammatical problem and provides absolutely no exegetical support
for asserting that Christ is the potential propitiation
for those who die in unbelief.
- Meeter (ed.), Selected Shorter Writings,
- Ibid., pp.176-77.
- Ibid., pp.169-77.
- Arthur W. Pink, The Atonement (Venice,
Florida: Chapel Library, n.d.), pp.13-i4.
- Ibid., p.14.
- Owen, The Death of Death in the
Death of Christ, p.226.
- "The 'due season' comprises the
entire new dispensation. . . . Not during the old dispensation
but only during the new can the mystery be fully revealed that
all men, Gentiles as well as Jews, are now on an equal footing;
that is, that the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs and fellow-members
of the body and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus
through the gospel' (Eph. 3:6; cf. Eph. 2:11,12)." Cf.
William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition
of the Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,
This article is "Appendix II",
taken from Dr. Gary Long's Definite
Atonement, Philadelphia: Presbyterian
and Reformed Publishing, 1977. pp 85-101.
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