and to give his life a ransom for many."--- (Mark 10:45)
PART 1: INTRODUCTION
A “ransom” is “the money or price paid for the redemption of a prisoner or slave, or for goods captured by an enemy; that which procures the release of a prisoner or captive, or of captured property, and restores the one to liberty and the other to the original owner.”(Webster) There is no such thing as a ransom being paid and accepted without entailing the obligation of the one accepting the ransom to free the captive. This is not only universally true in human affairs; but it is the picture of redemption presented throughout holy Scripture. Christ gave His life as a ransom, and those ransomed must be released. If the ransom was paid for all men without exception, then all of them must be set free. But all men are not redeemed by Christ, for many remain slaves of sin and Satan; therefore Christ did not give Himself as a ransom for them.
Most Christians have been taught that Christ died for all, for every person that ever lived or ever shall live. If asked the question “For whom did Christ die?” they will respond that the Bible says He died for “the whole world”, for “all men”; and think that there is no more to be said. But the use of these and the like expressions proves nothing, for they are ambiguous, and derive their scope from the various contexts in which they are found. “All men” can be used generally of all sorts of men, of all the nations, or of the Gentiles in distinction from the Jews. The “whole world” can mean the evil world system (1 John 5:19), or the whole Roman world (Romans 1:8), or the saved throughout the world (1 John 2:2). While this ambiguity exists, one can prove nothing from the occurrence of these expressions alone.
The nature of a ransom, on the other hand, is a clear and definite concept; and where the word is used, that concept is expressed. There has never been a ransom paid with the result that the captive remained in prison unless it has been through faithless violation of the ransom agreement. This is impossible in the case of a ransom paid to Divine justice! No ransom agreement in Scripture has ever included a condition for release beyond the payment of the ransom; nor can any ransom arrangement be found in Scripture that did not have reference to particular persons or specific property.
Redemption is a closely-related word that also has a definite meaning. To redeem someone (or something) is to deliver him, properly and usually by the payment of a ransom. In the New Testament, this is used most often of our deliverance from condemnation and wrath and spiritual death by the death of Jesus Christ. Redemption was accomplished by the offering and acceptance of a substitute – one who died in our place. If Jesus had not died for us, we would have been liable to the penalty of our sins; but now we are freed forever from all guilt and condemnation through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all.
But the rest, the unbelieving world, lies under the wrath of God (John 3:18, 36). The heathen, who know not God, and who have never heard the gospel are alike under wrath for their sins (Ephesians 2:3; 5:6). Christ's sacrifice “propitiates” God, that is, appeases Him and turns away His wrath (1 John 2:2). Men are damned for this reason only – because their sins, both original and actual, demand punishment. They “cry out for vengeance” against the injured honor, justice, holiness, and goodness of God.
It follows, that no one can be damned whose sins have been taken away by the Lamb of God. God's justice does not permit Him to punish the same sins twice. This is the very essence of substitutionary atonement. If one could be brought into jeopardy again for the same crimes already punished in Christ, then His vicarious sufferings would accomplish nothing! So, those for whom Christ died must be released! The redemptive work of our glorious Savior actually “obtained eternal redemption” for them.
Those who say that Christ paid for the sins of all men cannot explain how it is that millions of them can then be lost. What – we ask again – is the reason Scripture gives for the wrath of God that is poured out in endless punishment in Hell? Their sins! (John 8:24; Romans 1:18, 2:6; Ephesians 5:6; Revelation 14:11) When this point is pressed, some will say that men are finally punished for only one sin – the rejection of Christ. But this is not what the Bible says! And if it were true, it would not explain why the heathen who have never heard of Jesus Christ, and therefore cannot reject Him, are lost.
The Power of God
What is most important about the doctrine of particular redemption is not the extent of the atonement, but its efficacy – its ransoming power. The atonement preached in most places today is only efficacious on condition of faith. It does nothing for the unbeliever until he both hears the gospel (which many do not) and chooses to receive it as truth. Until that moment, for him in particular, it is as if it had never happened. And if that moment never comes, if he goes through life never hearing the word of salvation, or if he hears it, but never believes it, he will be just as damned as if Jesus had never gone to the cross at all! What this amounts to is that God's best effort – employing His infinite love, wisdom and power, and the sacrifice of His dear Son, is by itself insufficient to save anyone! God intends to save everyone, and bends heaven and earth to His will to accomplish this purpose, but nevertheless miserably fails! Is this not blasphemy?
Now, Calvinists grant that the sinner is not actually saved (justified, sanctified, regenerated, etc.) until he believes the gospel. What we deny is that anyone for whom Christ died can continue his whole life in unbelief and receive no benefit from the fact that Christ died for him. In other words, the fact of the elect sinner's identification with Christ in His death , and of the substitutionary nature of His atonement makes it impossible for God to ever punish him, and therefore guarantees that he will at some time be saved. If my sins were imputed to Christ, and He died as a result, then God has “boxed Himself in”. The transaction cannot be revoked. The deal is done – it can't be undone. If this is not sufficient to ensure my salvation, then what is?
The fact that a condition must be met before my status actually changes from lost to saved does not make the ultimate success of Christ's redeeming work uncertain. Christ loved me and died for me with the intention and purpose of saving me; and that is what must occur. The Westminster Confession states:
To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them; and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey...(8:8)
The Myth of Free Will
But is it possible for God to guarantee that the condition will be fulfilled? Doesn't that lie within the power of the man's free will alone? Not if we believe the Bible! The Bible declares in no uncertain terms that nothing shall be impossible with God. The idea that the freedom of man's will somehow lies outside the realm of Divine sovereignty is not taught in the Bible – it is an assumption we make until our thinking is corrected by God's revelation. One unequivocal proof text will suffice: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.“ (John 1:11-13) John says here that the new birth does not occur as the result of a decision we make, but solely at the will of a sovereign God (see also John 3:3-8). When Jesus says “Ye must be born again”, He does not command Nicodemus to get born again – He only declares its necessity. God initiates. Man is passive until God works in him to will and to do, of His mere good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13) Faith and repentance are “gifts of God” (Ephesians 2:8, Acts 11:18) in the sense that we begin to exercise them after we have been “born again” – made alive by the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit. We are incapable of making the decision to receive Christ until our eyes have already been opened to see His glory, and our old stony heart has been replaced by an heart of flesh!
For the Elect Only
But does the Bible actually teach that Christ only died for some people and not for others? Yes! There are many Scripture statements in which the mission of Christ is defined in relation to particular persons distinguished from the rest of the world:
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. 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)
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. (Ephesians 5:25)
PART 2: PAUL'S DOCTRINE
We have seen that the very nature of biblical redemption requires a particular and an efficacious atonement. But there is conclusive proof of another kind in the eighth of Romans:
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? 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.” (Romans 8:28-34)
Paul's purpose is to assure believers that “all things work together for good” to them. We are not to fear, no matter what befalls us; because our final salvation is guaranteed. Paul refers in verse 28 to “them that love God”, who are “the called according to his purpose”. In verse 29, they are called “whom he did foreknow” and “brethren” of the Son. In verse 30, they are referred to as “whom he did predestinate”, and these same persons “whom he called”, “whom he justified”are “also glorified”. He is evidently speaking of the saved – and no one else – throughout the context. But they are the saved as viewed from the Divine perspective: as those chosen of God from eternity, called in time, and destined to eternal glory. They are called in verse 33, “God's elect”.
The theme of God's sovereign activity pervades. They are distinguished from others as “the called” of God. They have received not only the outward, audible call of the gospel, but the special and effectual call that actually brought them into a saving relationship with God. He “foreknows” them, which means “fore-loves”, and implies His choosing of them. (See Amos 3:2, 1 Corinthians 8:3, Romans 11:2) He has “predestinated” them to salvation. In time, He calls and justifies them by giving them the gift of faith, which He does not give to all. Their final glorification at the last day is spoken of as if already accomplished – so certain it is of fulfillment.
There is a transition at the end of verse 30 where we read, “What shall we then say to these things?” Then follows a series of four arguments for the perfect security of the believer, based on the foregoing facts, presented as questions. Our main concern is with the second argument, but it will be helpful to glance at each of them in turn.
Argument 1. If God be for us, who can be against us? (verse 31)
The first argument for the complete security of believers is from the sovereignty of God. If God is “for us”in the sense that the foregoing verses describe, if He has chosen and predestined us to salvation and called us in accord with His purpose, then who can prevent Him from achieving His aim? Even our enemies' attacks cannot hurt us; for they will be used by God to further our salvation!
Argument 2. He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (verse 32)
The second argument for the security of the believer employs an argument from the greater to the less. It relies on the fact of God's rationality and consistency. God is not unstable or capricious like we are. Everything He does makes sense. If He did not withhold His own Son from us, why would He withhold anything else necessary to our salvation? Once the greatest gift of all has been given, once He has been “delivered... up for us all”, our calling, justification and glorification, which cost God nothing, may be absolutely depended on to follow. “How shall He not freely give us all things?”
Now, it is important for us to realize that every correct inference from Scripture has the same authority as the Scripture itself. As the Westminster Confession puts it, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture:” Whatever “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” is in a sense “contained” in Scripture.
If this sounds strange, consider that Jesus Christ often quoted Scripture that only indirectly spoke to the point he was making, and then drew an inference from it, which put an end to any argument. The following example is sufficient to illustrate:
But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:31-32)
Now, the necessary implication of this argument in Romans 8:32 is that Christ was “delivered up” for the elect, for their redemption – and for no one else. For if He had been offered for all men without exception, then God would certainly, according to this argument, save all men without exception. There is no escaping this conclusion except by denying the validity and force of the inspired apostle's argument.
Argument 3. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth (verse 33).
The third argument for the believer's security is that we need not fear any accusation in the court of God's judgment; for it is God Himself that has chosen us for His own and has already declared us righteous. Once that is done, the judge is finished with his work, and the court session is over. No further charges can be brought! Who would dare to challenge His judgment? How would he appeal to a higher court?
Argument 4. 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 (verse 34). If we were going to be condemned, who would condemn us? Would this not be the prerogative of Jesus Christ? Is it not against God that all our sins were chiefly directed? Is not His lawful representative the Son of God, into whose hands all judgment has been committed? Yet this is the very One who, acting as our great High Priest, has provided our atonement and forever intercedes for us.
Thus Paul is seen not only to teach the election and predestination of some to salvation, but that the purpose of Christ's death was to redeem these, and no others. Furthermore, he makes a great point of the doctrine by using it as an argument for our perfect and eternal security in Christ. Once again, if Christ had died for all men without exception, merely to make their salvation possible, that doctrine would furnish no proof of our security in Christ. One might reply to it, “Christ died for me? Good! But He died for Judas, and Judas was finally lost. There's no security in that!” But if such a thought is abhorrent to Scripture, then the argument we have made must stand.
The difficulties raised and the objections made to this doctrine, which are legion, have been fully answered countless times in the standard Calvinistic theologies and commentaries, and the seeker for truth will find his labor richly rewarded by digging in these gold-mines. But it is not necessary to know the answers to all the questions that can be raised before embracing a doctrine that has been proved from holy Scripture.
PART 3: ALTERNATIVE VIEWS
Those who reject particular redemption fall into four main groups. The first group, called Universalists claim that Hell is not really eternal punishment, and that all men will eventually be saved. This minority view is generally not considered evangelical; but it is at least logical.
A second view is that Christ did not intend by the atonement to redeem anyone, but merely to cancel the legal covenant and to obtain the right to establish new terms of salvation and a new covenant. This view is called “Neo-nomianism”, from the Greek words for “new” and “law”. It escapes me how anyone who professes to take the actual words of the New Testament seriously could propose such a thing. There is not one word of such an arrangement in the Bible.
The third, usually called the Arminian view, or hypothetical universalism, is that redemption has been “provided” for everyone, but on condition that it be appropriated. But what does it mean to “provide” redemption? In the nature of the case, “to provide redemption” is the same thing as “to redeem”, just as “to provide deliverance” means “to deliver”. If a captive is not delivered, then what was provided was only an effort to deliver; which however failed!
The idea of the work of Christ as provisional, but not effective, is neither biblical nor reasonable. Did Christ merely pay the price into some trust fund, to be available upon certain conditions? Does he get a refund of the unused portion? Of course not! This was no monetary payment, but an irreversible, irrevocable act of satisfaction. The price was paid once for all, and, according to Scripture, Jesus “obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12).
“Yes!” some will say. “Redemption was obtained – for those that God knew beforehand would believe, of their own free will.” But then, this is to concede the argument, and to grant the particularity of the atonement. All that remains is to understand that God's will – not man's – determines who will believe; and therefore, to embrace the truth of Divine election. From thence it will follow that the atonement was made for these, and that it ensures their salvation.
But the Arminian view conflicts with Scripture at every point. It sets forth a “redemption” that does not necessarily redeem, a “salvation” that does not always save. According to Arminians, Christ loves believers no more than He loved Judas, who was, according to Scripture (Mark 14:21, John 17:12, Acts 1:25), predestined to destruction. According to that view, Christ died for the millions already in Hell when He was crucified. (To what purpose?) According to them, it is we ourselves who determine our own eternal destinies – not the sovereign God. (But see Romans 9:15-18.) God has no power over the human will, they say. (But see Psalms 110:3, Acts 16:14, Philippians 2:13.) They object that God would be wicked if He were to predestinate some to Hell and some to Heaven; so that doctrine, even though revealed in the pages of Scripture with startling fullness, clarity and emphasis (Romans 9:19-24), cannot be true. The best thing to be said for this view is that it is consistent in its denial of the biblical doctrine of God's sovereignty in every phase and aspect of salvation.
An Attempt at Compromise
A fourth view is the inconsistent position that election and predestination are true, but nevertheless, the atonement was not made for the elect only. This view, called “hypothetical universalism”, and sometimes “Amyraldianism”, after the man who proposed it, claims that there is a kind of dependence and order in the decrees of God as follows:
First, God decreed to save mankind by Christ, through faith.
Second, foreseeing that the natural man would not receive Christ; He chose certain ones to be given the gift of faith and be saved.
This theory has no scriptural basis beyond an arbitrary rigidity of interpretation of general expressions and inferences therefrom, which I have already addressed. It is further liable to the following objections:
It Makes God Illogical
Decrees 1 and 2 both imply that man is lost. Amyrauldians with particular redemptionists agree that man has lost his freewill to good. To design a salvation that depends on faith, of which man is incapable, and a reception, which man will not give it, is not reasonable.
Furthermore, the second decree never achieves the goal stated in the first, which is “to save mankind”. Mankind surely means “all mankind”; since the whole idea of this theory is to give a reason why Christ supposedly died for all. But all mankind are not saved, so the goal is not reached. Is this consistent with the boundless, perfect wisdom of God?
On the other hand, if it be said that “mankind” as a species is intended, and is saved by this plan – even if all are not – then it may be replied that it would have been a more straightforward way of achieving that goal to simply set out to save those who are actually going to be saved. And in that case, there is no reason for Christ to die for everyone.
Election Not An Afterthought
By this theory, election from eternity is (ironically) transformed into an afterthought! Is it not rather the basis of the atonement? The purpose of Christ's work is to save particular persons, those “given Him by the Father”(John 6:37-40). In Ephesians 5:25, these same persons are called”the church”, which He “loved, and “gave Himself for”. Hebrews 2:9-17 is clear and emphatic that Christ died for the elect:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 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. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
Verse 9 is often quoted out of context to prove that Christ died for all men without exception. But what sense does it make to seize on the expression “every man”, as if it can only mean the whole human race, when every other reference in this entire paragraph to the people for whom Christ died is distinctive of the people of God? Observe that, in his first mention of the objects of redemption in this epistle, at 1:14, he has already drawn attention to their election, calling them “those who shall be heirs of salvation”. It is for the sake of these “children” of God, His “brethren” that He is incarnated (2:14), and suffers death. He does not take on Him the nature of angels nor of men in general, but of “the seed of Abraham”. It is for “the people” that He makes reconciliation (2:17).
Does all this perhaps give us an idea of the author's intended scope when he used the Greek word pas (“all”, “the whole”, “each one”) rendered “every man” in 2:9? Christ died for all – for each and every one of the heirs, sons, children, brethren, and people of God the writer is speaking about. The extent of a general expression is defined by the context in which it is found.
The same phenomenon occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, where we read, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.” Here we find “all” and “every man”, but to whom do they refer? Absolutely all die in Adam, it is true; but the other all can only mean “they that are Christ's”, who are “made alive” (resurrected in glory) “at His coming”!
Perhaps more importantly, an atonement designed to save everyone (or to save no one in particular) can never be the proof of the greatness of God's love for His people (As stated in 1 John 3:16, 4:9-10). For without the subsequent decree of election, it does nothing for anyone. The Divine act that makes all the difference then becomes the effectual call, or regeneration. The atonement then is pushed into the background. But this does not accord with the tenor of Scripture. It amounts to a denial that in the cross of Christ we see displayed the special love that God has for His elect people, “redeeming love”, as it used to be called. What a difference this makes in how we view the love of God for us! Has “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son” to make a general provision for its salvation, and then decided to only elect some to benefit from it? There is a gross incongruity here that is inconsistent with the jealous, possessive, intensely personal, overcoming love that moved our Lord Jesus to willingly lay down His life in agony rather than allow any of His people to be lost.
The Preaching Of The Cross
There is not a single example in the whole New Testament of the kind of “evangelistic” preaching that we see today. The apostles never said to unbelievers, “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Read the sermons in the book of Acts, and you will find that no unbeliever is ever told that God loves him in particular, or that He sent Jesus to die for him in particular. The assurance of God's everlasting love is reserved for the comfort of the people of God. Yes, Nicodemus was told that God loved “the world” of men and sent His Son to save it; but he was not told that God loved everyone with a redeeming love, or that God loved him, or that Christ died to save him in particular.
What was preached is that Christ died for sinners, for their salvation; and that it is each man's duty to repent and believe the gospel, in which case he will be saved and inherit all the promises of God. All are invited, yes, commanded to receive the Lord, to seek Him, to call upon His name; and are assured that those who do will find mercy. The gospel is for all kinds of people; men, women and children from every place and culture and language, of every age and every walk of life. The invitation is unrestricted – “Whosoever will” may come. Those who believe the gospel and are saved then go on to learn that they were “chosen” from the foundation of the world “unto salvation through the sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). They come to understand that they love God because He first loved them (1 John 4:19). They rejoice in the sure and certain hope of the glory of God(Romans 5:2).
Our Great High Priest
When the High Priest of Israel went into the holy of holies once a year to make symbolic atonement for the sins of the people, he wore a breastplate on his front with twelve jewels bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 28:17-21,29), and two epaulets on his shoulders likewise bearing their twelve names (Exodus 28:9-12). He offered the blood of an unblemished victim for them and for no other. He then lifted up his hands and blessed them on the basis of the atonement made, making intercession for them, and them only.
This was not a real atonement, as the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews insists (Hebrews 10:4,11). The purpose of this whole ceremony – as of all the ceremonies of the law, was to preach the gospel until Christ came. It was to provide a picture of that great High Priest to come, who would truly redeem His people from their sins. Therefore every detail has a fulfillment in the antitype. There is nothing prescribed that is extraneous – nothing described that is without meaning.
When Jesus Christ, of whom the Aaronic High Priest was the type, went to the cross, He bore on His heart and upon His shoulders the names of the spiritual Israel He was sent to redeem (John 17:2), and no others. He makes intercession for them alone (John 17:9). Otherwise, the details of the breastplate and the epaulets so conspicuous in the type would have no corresponding fulfillment in the antitype! The particularity of redemption is not some doctrine made up by men, but the doctrine of holy Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood... to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Soli Deo gloria!
Howard Douglas King
Revised November 16, 2014