Is God’s Justice Violated If the Atonement Is Limited?
I believe the motive for the Arminian here is to try to make God appear more just (an impossible mission!). While this may appear to be a noble gesture toward God and more palatable for man, since when does God need man to justify His actions?
Arminianism teaches that Christ died for all men. That’s only fair, they say. But if Christ died for all men, then He also bore the curse and punishment of sin for all He died for. That is what the cross was all about. But, we know that all men are not saved – those who do not believe in Jesus are condemned to hell (Jn. 3:18, 19). Even the Arminian (with the exception of some true universalists) admit to that.
If the Arminian is right, then God is terribly unfair. Christ would have suffered the penalty for sin on the cross (even for those who never believe), and then later God will pour out His wrath on them again in hell. This is two punishments for the same crime – double jeopardy. This is certainly not consistent with God’s perfect justice. So, the attempt to make God appear more just results in making Him very unjust.
The salvation God gives us as a gift of His grace is either total grace or it is not of grace at all. Grace and works don’t mix (Rom. 11:6). Loraine Boettner, in his book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, gives us the following fitting illustration. He says, the Calvinist has a narrow bridge (limited atonement) that goes all the way across the stream. The Arminian proposes that there is a wide bridge (unlimited atonement) that goes only half way across. For the Arminian to get to the other side, he will have to build the rest of the bridge himself by a work of acceptance in faith. This makes the work of Christ useless unless man adds his acceptance to it. This type of cooperative effort is foreign to the Scriptures. Man does not cooperate in the matter of his salvation, but he does “respond” to the working of God’s Holy Spirit in his heart. The real “bridge” that God builds is narrow, but it does go all the way across!
Why All This Concern?
Why does the Calvinist get so upset about the Arminian doctrine of an “unlimited atonement”? It is not just for the sake of theological nit-picking or a good debate. This is a doctrine that strikes at the very heart of the work of Christ.
Arminianism reduces the cross to a mere wish – a gift laid before all men with only a wish that somebody will avail themselves of it. Where is the power of the cross? It is in the hands of man, and not in the hands of a sovereign God!
It may sound very benevolent to walk up to a stranger and tell him that “God loves him and Jesus died on the cross for him,” and unless he accepts Christ in faith, that blood was shed for him in vain. But it’s not true! Rather, we must tell all men that God sent His Son to bear the sins of His people so that those who repent and believe might have everlasting life. If they do this, then they will come to the fuller realization that God has not only chosen them, but Christ had them (their very names) in mind when He died on the cross. Once a person is a believer, he will both understand and believe in the love of God for His people (cf. I Jn. 4:15-16).
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.