Pastor John, you have a chapter in the upcoming book, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. That’s a mouthful. Pastor John, can you explain for us, What is definite atonement? And what does the doctrine of definite atonement offer the Christian? Why does it matter?
The meaning of the definite atonement is that the fullest purpose of Christ’s death was for a definite group of people. He lays down his life for his sheep. He gave himself for his bride (see Ephesians 5:25, John 10:15).
Christ’s Free Offer to All
And the reason I say that the fullest purpose of Christ’s death was for a definite group is because I believe there are other purposes besides this fullest purpose. God does more than those other purposes for his definite people. But he does those other purposes for everybody. And this is why I make the case that God’s purpose in the death of Christ relates to all people in some ways. Namely, he died for all in the sense that he made salvation available to all, it is sufficient for all, and it is offered freely and genuinely to all so that anyone who believes may receive the benefits of the death of Christ.
And that is usually what the people mean who stumble over definite atonement. And I want to say to them, I believe that with you. I go as far as you go and say that in the death of Christ a reservoir of salvation was made, and it is sufficient so that no one will be excluded if they want to come. The offer is given, and we are sent with a message indiscriminate to the whole world to say, “Come to Christ. Dive into this reservoir of infinitely sufficient atoning grace and be saved. No one is excluded.”
Christ’s Electing Love
Now having said that, there are other passages of Scripture that say God knows those who are his, and he appoints that Christ effectively save those who are his by his death. So, for example, in John 17:6: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me.”
So, he has an elect people. God has an elect people. He chooses them for himself. He gives them to the Son. These are his sheep, and he says that “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). And Paul says, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
I don’t think — and I would have to give an extensive argument for this, which I would be happy to do — that Paul, when he said, “He loved me, he gave himself for me,” meant that Christ died only for an indefinite mass of humanity, and whoever is a part of that mass is his, and they make themselves part of that mass by their faith. So his love in dying for that mass is a particular love for no one. It is just a love for an indefinite mass. You decide whether you are part of that mass or not, and then you infer that since he loved the mass, he must love you because you are in the mass. That is just not the way Paul is thinking there. Paul is saying when Christ died, he had me in view. He died for me. I am not a nameless mass of humanity. He died for me. He loved me.
Christ’s Personal Love
From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is a big new book on the definite atonement, and I have a chapter in there along with twenty-plus other authors. And one of the reasons I am excited about it is that I am so jealous that God’s people know themselves sweetly, personally, definitely, particularly loved, like a husband loves his wife, even though he has another kind of love for all women. Definite atonement is God’s way of getting personal with us at the point of his greatest sacrifice.
“If you are a believer in Christ, you are loved with a particular love, a definite, personal love.”
So he says in Romans 8:32–33 — listen to this sequence; the sequence is all important — “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” The sequence there is clear. The “us all” in verse 32 and the “us” in verse 32b are made up of the same people whom Paul refers to in the last part of the verse: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” It just won’t work to say that “us all” is all people — it is clearly all elect.
Christ wants his people to feel the massive security of verse 37: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” And that love was expressed in not sparing his Son for us. So if you are a believer in Christ, you are loved with a particular love, a definite, personal love. He did for you, by name, this great thing — namely sacrificing himself. So, I would exhort everybody who is listening, as I do myself, pray that God would give you the fullest enjoyment of that truth of being loved particularly in the death of Christ.