Limited Atonement

We continue with our series of messages on the Doctrines of Grace, using the word “tulip,” to assist us in remembering the topics. We’re ready for the “L,” which is limited atonement. The text is John 10:15:“As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” The term limited atonement does not mean that the atonement made by Jesus Christ is limited as to its greatness, its value, or its benefit; but it is limited in its purpose. Sometimes I prefer to use the term “particular redemption,” because it signifies what this doctrine really is about. Jesus Christ came to redeem a people. He came to redeem a particular people, and He did it. Others have referred to it as “definite redemption.”

The Singular Event of History

We are dealing with the most unique, most important event in history — the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His death was prophesied, it was typified, it was anticipated and finally the day came. It was the appointed time for the Savior to be born; He lived, He went to the cross. He had said previously, when they had attempted to take Him, “My hour is not yet come.” But the hour finally came, and at the exact moment appointed by the Father—because He was viewed as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world—Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross and died at Calvary. This event was accompanied by many supernatural demonstrations, in that the sun was darkened at noonday, a great earthquake shook the ground, the veil in the temple was rent in twain. It was evident that this was no ordinary event, and the man who died upon this cross was no ordinary man. He was the God-man. After three days and three nights, He arose from the dead. There was an empty tomb to testify that He was gone, and over 500 people saw Him — eyewitnesses of His resurrection.

The death of Jesus Christ became the very essence of the message that was then preached by the apostles. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he determined to know nothing among them, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

The death of Jesus Christ is the focus of what we talk about, what we sing about, and what is depicted in the ordinances of the church. When a person is baptized, he or she is immersed. As they go down into the water, they are speaking of their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we sit at the communion table, Jesus informed us, that we “... do shew the Lord's death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11:26). So the death of Jesus Christ is a matter of tremendous interest to us: it’s the basis of our salvation, it’s the most astounding event of all history. We come, then, to consider this question: what was the purpose of the death of Christ? We will then look at what was accomplished by it. But if we want to best understand what was accomplished, we need to know what was intended.

What Was the Purpose?

Thankfully, we’re not left to guess on this topic. The answer is clearly given in Scripture. These are the words of Jesus in John 6:38, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Language could not be plainer. He came down from heaven to do the will of the One that sent Him. Verse 39, “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.” And, again, we’re not left to guess, because He explicitly tells us what the Father’s will was. “…that of all which he hath given me...” Who are these that were given to Him? They are the ones we’ve previously considered being identified as the elect of God. Those who were chosen of the Father were given to the Son, and it was the Father’s will that He should lose none of these, but should raise them up again at the last day. Was God a failure? Did His plan fail? Certainly not. Now, let’s go to an Old Testament passage, where this marvelous doctrine is set forth in very clear terms. We read in Isaiah 53, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (vv. 4-5). His work, then, was effective. “...the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” He accomplished what was designed. He did not just make a people savable; He did that which was necessary to secure them so that they would be with Him forever. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). Now, if the iniquity of the entire Adamic family was put upon Him and He put away sin, I ask then, what can be the possible grounds of condemnation for any? “For he was cut off out of the land of the living…” For what purpose was He stricken? Why did He die? Why did He suffer? “...for the transgression of my people was he stricken” (vv. 8). Then, in verse ten, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him...” Understand that when Jesus Christ went to the cross the Father was not standing helplessly by unable to intervene. Jesus Christ was accomplishing what had been designed from eternity past. He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). God treated Christ at Calvary like you and I deserve to be treated because of our sin and transgression. It pleased the Father to bruise Him. How could it have pleased the Father, who loved His Son, to bruise Him? “...he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” Here’s the answer to the question. Because the pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. Whatever pleased God would prosper — not come to nothing, not be defeated. “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied...” (v. 11a). This is another term that should be applied to this theme of limited atonement, and that is the satisfaction of Jesus Christ. Jesus looked ahead. He saw the anguish of the cross. He saw what He would suffer; not just the physical pain, but the fact that our sin would be put upon Him. He was perfect, spotless. Oh, how horrendous the moment when the sins of His people were put upon Him! The Father, then, had to turn His back and the Son cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” As a man, when He anticipated that horrible hour, He prayed “...let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39b). He saw the suffering. He saw the anguish. He saw of the travail of His soul — but He was satisfied! Why? Because He saw the result of it… Oh, my friends, the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ is that Jesus Christ was satisfied because He got what He paid for. “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). Now, if He was bearing their iniquities, they no longer have to bear them. You see, God is not going to put the sins upon His Son, have the Son suffer, and then let the individual suffer for the same sin.“…and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12). He bore their sin. He made intercession for them. He did not come to make salvation a possibility; He came to make it a reality. He did not come to make it available; He came to save. Jesus says that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). This is life eternal, to know Jesus Christ. This is a part of this great scheme of grace. “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (vv. 4-5). Verse nine, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Understand, now, we’re considering the question, “what was the purpose of the death of Christ?” I want to tell you that Jesus Christ died for the same people for whom He prayed. He said, “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me...” First Peter, chapter three, verse 18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit...” Christ suffered. He suffered for what? He suffered for sins. It was a substitutionary death. He was the Just One, we were the unjust. The Just for the unjust. For what purpose? That He might bring us to God. Did He do it? Did He do it? That’s the question.

What Was Accomplished?

Seeing what the purpose was, what was intended by His death, we now consider what was accomplished. What actually happened? Many times you have had a great many plans—maybe some on which you had worked for an extended period of time—but when you tried to implement them, you found that you could not carry them out. There were obstacles that got in your path, there were things that you had not anticipated and, for one reason or another, your plan just did not work. But I want to tell you that everything that God planned, all that He purposed, all that He designed, came to pass. Hebrews, chapter nine, verse 11, confirms this, “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (vv. 11-12). All of those lambs that were slain in olden times—all that blood that was sprinkled on Jewish altars—pointed to the fact that one day the perfect, spotless, Lamb of God would go to the cross and would, unlike any of those lambs, actually obtain eternal redemption for His people. Hebrews, chapter ten. We read earlier in the ninth verse that He said, “...I come to do thy will, O God.” Verse 11 says, “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins...” Those sacrifices of old simply were pictures, they were pointing to the one perfect sacrifice that would finally be made, “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (vv. 12-14). There are several Biblical terms that are intimately connected with Christ’s accomplishment on the cross. First of all, He redeemed them. Galatians, chapter three, verse 13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree...” What does the word “redeemed” mean? To buy back by the paying of a price. Jesus Christ, then, paid the price and secured us. He did not make us redeemable, He redeemed us. If He had paid the price but failed to get what He paid for, that would not be redemption. Redemption is actually securing that for which the price was paid. He redeemed us from the curse of the law. These are the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Have you ever heard of a ransom note? Somebody kidnaps a child, sends the note that says we’ll return the child safely for a certain amount of money. That amount of money is paid, the child is released. That child has been ransomed. If the child is not released, the ransom is not complete. Jesus Christ gave His life a ransom for many. He paid the price and therefore they go free. Romans, chapter five, tells us that not only are we redeemed, not only are we ransomed — we are reconciled. Verse ten, “For if, when we were enemies...” What was our condition by nature? It wasn’t because we had a righteous life to offer. It wasn’t because we had a tender heart to present, but, “...when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” Redeemed, ransomed, reconciled. Romans, chapter eight. Now we learn that the cause of condemnation was removed. Earlier in these messages, we’ve looked at that chain of grace laid out for us in the thirtieth verse. Those who were the predestinated are the called, the called are the justified, the justified are the glorified. Now, verse 32, “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. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (vv. 31-35). Now, let’s just look at that little word, “us.” Somebody may say, “He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all. Maybe that’s the whole Adamic family.” Well, let’s just trace how this little word is used. Verse 35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Verse 34, He makes intercession for us. Whoever these people are, they’re in good shape, aren’t they? They’re loved of God. He’s interceding for them. Verse 32 says that He freely gives us all things. Verse 31 says, who can be against us since God is for us. Who is the “us?” The “us!” Ah, now we’re back to verse 30. The “us” are the glorified. Who are the glorified? The glorified are the justified. Who are the justified? The justified are the called. Who are the called? They are the predestinated. Who are the predestinated? They are the foreknown. God’s people — secure because of the successful work of Jesus Christ. Who can be against us? You see, He freely gives us all things. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?” Now look carefully at verse 34,“Who is he that condemneth?” He’s raising the question now, how can any be condemned for whom Christ died? “It is Christ that died...”

Now, just think on this one point: If one single soul for whom Christ died can be condemned, the apostle Paul has no argument, the words here are meaningless.

But, my friends, the apostle Paul wrote under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And when he says that—because Christ died—none can condemn, we know that to be a fact. He removed the cause of condemnation.

Objections Briefly Considered

I couldn’t possibly deal with all of the objections that are raised to this doctrine. But someone might genuinely say, “You’re systematically avoiding some verses that are favorites of mine. I know they’re in the Bible; why won’t you look at them?” Let’s look at some of them. John, chapter one, verse 29, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Now, let me just briefly say that if you suggest that the world here is the whole Adamic family and Jesus Christ took away the sin of the whole Adamic family, on what grounds are they condemned? So there must be some other consideration here with respect to the word “world.” Now, let’s go the book of First John. Here it’s used again. 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (vv. 1-2). Remember the Jews thought they had a corner on the blessings of God; that anything that was done, God was going to do it for them, through them, by them and for their benefit. They could not grasp that there was salvation for other people. You remember how difficult it was for Peter to be convinced that he ought to carry the gospel to Cornelius? The Lord had to give him a vision of a sheet let down from heaven before he was ready to go, What, then, is John saying? He is the propitiation for our sins, for the Jews, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world, for Gentiles as well, because He has a people in every kindred and nation under heaven. Another objection that is raised comes from 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” When he says that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, is that going to contradict and refute everything we’ve already read about the purpose of God in election? No. Let’s interpret the text by its context. In the first verse of the first chapter, Peter defines the “us” to whom he is writing, and with whom the Lord is longsuffering: “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ...” Who is he talking to? Those who have obtained like precious faith. What’s he talking about? He’s talking about Christ coming back. God is not slack concerning His promise. What promise? The promise of His return. Yes, He will come back, but is longsuffering to us-ward (those who have obtained like precious faith), not willing that any perish, but that all should come to repentance. The fact is Jesus Christ will not come back until every single one of the elect family have been born of the Holy Spirit. He’s longsuffering. He is not going to come until His whole plan has been consummated.

What Is the Value of This Doctrine?

Doctrine, the teaching of Scripture, is there for a purpose. It’s valuable. So, you can rest assured that any Bible doctrine is of value. This doctrine makes a difference. It makes a difference about many things. It’s going to make a difference about how you view God. It’s going to make a difference about how you view your own situation. The truth is going to bring glory to God. First of all, this doctrine displays the justice of God. 1 Peter 2:24 speaks of the work of Christ, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree...” Because He bore our sins, then we do not have to bear them. God is not going to allow the penalty to be meted out on two parties for the same sin. God is just. And according to His justice, then, when Christ died in the stead of His people, He took their place; it was a substitutionary death, and so God’s people will not be punished because Christ was. Secondly, this doctrine is valuable because it magnifies the power of God. So many today talk about a God whose hands are tied, His purposes are thwarted, He is often disappointed and defeated. But that’s not the God of the Bible. The God who is the sovereign Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is a God who works His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the Earth (Daniel 4:34-35). This doctrine magnifies the power of God, because it represents Him as being a God who had a purpose, who designed salvation, and who had the power to execute it. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will...” Was the power, as well as the love, of God demonstrated on the cross? Was it magnified? Did He accomplish what He designed to do? Indeed, He did. It is complete redemption. Furthermore, it exhibits the glory of God. We preached a whole series of messages recently on the glory of God. I trust that subject is very much in your mind and heart to this day. I remind you of what Revelation 4:11 says: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Why did God create to begin with? Why did God create man? For His glory. For His glory. Because His work is a successful finished work, He gets the glory. It exhibits the glory of God and it reveals the grace of God. Grace. The Apostle Paul said in First Timothy, chapter one, the 15th verse, ”This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” You may be thinking, “The people you’re talking about here are wonderfully favored, wonderfully blessed of God. But, I have a problem. I’m a sinner.” Ah! I’ve got good news for you! That’s the people this redemptive work was designed for. Sinners! This is the faithful saying, this is worthy of all acceptation, Christ came into the world to save sinners. If you have no interest in Jesus, if you don’t see the awfulness of your sins, then I have no comfort for you. God commands all men everywhere to repent. But if you’ve been brought to the end of yourself, you hate your sin, you see Jesus as your friend and your Savior, that’s evidence that grace has wrought something in your heart. Do you believe in a Redeemer who redeems? You see, you’ve got every reason to believe in Him. You might have been hearing about a Savior who had attempted a great many things at which He fails, and you didn’t know if you could trust Him or not. You can trust this Savior, because He’s a Savior that saves. He’s a Redeemer that redeems. You have every reason to trust Him. Jesus tells us, in the gospel of John, “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. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (vv. 39-40). Do you see Him by the eye of faith? This is the Father’s will, that everyone that seeth the Son... Do you see Him? And believeth on Him...Do you believe on Him? Have everlasting life. If you see the Son and you believe on Him, you belong to Him. That’s grace.