The Extent of The Atonement

‘(…) If to this it should be replied, that for fallen angels no atonement has been made, but for some men an atonement has been made, so that it may be true of any individual that it was made for him, and if he will truly believe, he will thereby have the fact revealed, that it was, in fact, made for him; I reply, What is a sinner to believe, as a condition of salvation Is it merely that an atonement was made for somebody Is this saving faith Must he not embrace it, and personally and individually commit himself to it, and to Christ Trust in it as made for him But how is he authorized to do this upon the supposition that the atonement was made for some men only, and perhaps for him Is it saving faith to believe that it was possibly made for him, and by believing this possibility, will he thereby gain the evidence that it was, in fact, made for him No, he must have the word of God for it, that it was made for him. Nothing else can warrant the casting of his soul upon it. How then is “he truly to believe,” or trust in the atonement, until he has the evidence, not merely that it possibly may have been, but that it actually was made for him The mere possibility that an atonement has been made for an individual, is no ground of saving faith. What is he to believe Why, that of which he has proof. But the supposition is, that he has proof only that it is possible that the atonement was made for him. He has a right, then, to believe it possible that Christ died for him. And is this saving faith No, it is not. What advantage, then, has he over Satan in this respect Satan knows that the atonement was not made for him; the sinner upon the supposition knows that, possibly, it may have been made for him; but the latter has really no more ground for trust and reliance than the former. He might hope, but he could not rationally believe.

But upon this subject of the extent of the atonement, let the Bible speak for itself: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world, to condemn the world: but that the world through Him might be saved.” “And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 1:29, 3:16, 17, 9:42). “Therefore, as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so, by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18). “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15), “Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” “For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe” (1 Tim. 2:6, 4:10). “And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

That the atonement is sufficient for all men, and, in that sense, general, as opposed to particular, is also evident from the fact, that the invitations and promises of the gospel are addressed to all men, and all are freely offered salvation through Christ. “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else.” “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 14:22, 4:1-3). “Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” “Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage” (Matt. 11:28-30, 22:4). “And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come, for all things are now ready” (Luke 14:17). “In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink” (John 7:37), “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come, and let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 3:20, 22:17).

Again: I infer that the atonement was made, and is sufficient, for all men, from the fact that God not only invites all, but expostulates with them for not accepting His invitations. “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates; in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge Turn you at My reproof: behold I will pour out My Spirit unto you, I will make known My words unto you” (Prov. 1:20-23). “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. Oh that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea” (Isaiah 48:17, 18). “Say unto them, as I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel” (Ezek. 33:11). “Hear ye now what the Lord saith: Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord’s controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth; for the Lord hath a controversy with His people, and He will plead with Israel. O My people, what have I done unto thee And wherein have I wearied thee Testify against Me” (Micah 6:1-3). “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37).

Again: the same inference is forced upon us by the fact that God complains of sinners for rejecting His overtures of mercy: “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded” (Prov. 1:24). “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in His Spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts. Therefore, it is come to pass; that as he cried and they would not hear: so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 7:11-13). “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son. And sent forth his servant to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and treated them spitefully, and slew them” (Matt. 22:2-6). “And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife; and therefore I cannot come” (Luke 14:17-20). “And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40). “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, ad answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25). (…)’

Source: Charles G. Finney, Finney’s lectures on Systematic Theology (revised edition, 1878), Lecture 26: Extent of Atonement, p. 276-279.

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