The Case for Unlimited Atonement Pt. 3

I now to the finale where I cite from Reformed Calvinists that do believe in limited or definite atonement (

John Piper on 1 Timothy 2:5-6

Here is what this renowned theologian and pastor wrote concerning this specific text:

“How many did Christ effectively ransom from sin? He said that he came ‘to give his life as a ransom for many. Yet not everyone will be ransomed from the wrath of God. But the offer IS FOR EVERYONE. ‘There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:5-6). NO ONE is excluded from this salvation who embraces the treasure of the ransoming Christ.” (Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die [Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2006], 8. To Become A Ransom For Many, p. 35; bold and capital emphasis mine)

John MacArthur’s Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:3-6

MacArthur admits that the words “all men” or “all” in 1 Timothy 2:3-6 refers to everyone, not just the elect:

“Some might argue that Jesus said in John 17:9, ‘I do not ask on behalf of the world.’ But there Christ was praying as Great High Priest for God’s elect. Because He is sovereign, omniscient Deity, His prayer was specific in a way ours cannot be. It was a prayer exclusively for the salvation of those whom He loved and chose before the foundation of the world to be partakers of every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3-4). ‘The world’ was specifically excluded from the saving design of this prayer.

“Our prayers, however, are not the prayers of a high priest; we pray as ambassadors of Christ, whose task it is to beseech men and women on His behalf to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). We are therefore commanded to offer our entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings on behalf of all men. Our earnest desire ought to be for the salvation of all sinners (cf. Rom. 9:3; 10:1). We are not to try to limit evangelism to the elect only.

“There are two reasons for this. First, God’s decree of election is secret. We do not know who the elect are and have no way of knowing until they respond to the gospel. Second, the scope of God’s evangelistic purposes is broader than election. ‘Many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matt. 22:14). Even Jesus’ high priestly prayer does embrace the world in this important regard. Our Lord prayed for unity among the elect so that the truth of the gospel would be made clear to the world: ‘that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me…. that the world may know that Thou didst send Me’ (John 17:21, 23). God’s call to all sinners is a bona fide and sincere invitation to salvation: ‘“As I live!” declares the Lord God, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?”’ (Ezek. 33:11).” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy [Moody Publishers, Chicago, Il. 1995], pp. 67-68)

“Obviously, in some inscrutable sense, God’s desire for the world’s salvation is different from His eternal saving purpose. We can understand this to some degree from a human perspective; after all, our purposes frequently differ from our desires. We may desire, for example, to spend a day at leisure, yet a higher purpose compels us to go to work instead. Similarly, God’s saving purposes transcend His desires. (There is a crucial difference, of course: We might be compelled by circumstances beyond our control to choose what we do not desire. But God’s choices are determined by nothing other than His own sovereign, eternal purpose).

“God GENUINELY desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Yet in ‘the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Eph. 3:11), He chose only the elect ‘out of the world’ (John 17:6), and passed over the rest, leaving them to the damning consequences of their sin (cf. Rom. 1:18-32). The culpability for their damnation rests entirely on them because of their sin and rejection of God. God is not to blame for their unbelief.

“Since God desires all men to be saved, we are not required to ascertain that a person is elect before praying for that person’s salvation. God alone knows who all the elect are (2 Tim. 2:19). We may pray on behalf of all men with full assurance that such prayers are good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. After all, ‘the Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindess. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works’ (Ps. 145:8-9).

Apodektos (acceptable), is from apodechomai, which means ‘to receive gladly,’ ‘to accept with satisfaction,’ or ‘to heartily welcome.’ The Lord eagerly accepts prayer for the lost because it is consistent with His desire for their salvation.

“Such prayer is also consistent with His nature as Savior. The phrase God our Savior appears five other times in the Pastoral Epistles (1:1; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4), as well as in Jude 25. God is not only creator, sustainer, king, and judge, but also savior. His saving character is manifested through His Son, Jesus Christ (2:5-6; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13; 3:6). God is ‘the Savior of all men’ in a temporal sense, but especially of believers in an eternal sense (1 Tim. 4:10b).

“That truth of God’s saving nature is also taught in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Sam. 22:3; Ps. 106:21; Isa. 43:3, 11). The idea that the God of the Old Testament is a vengeful, wrathful ogre mollified by the gentle, loving, New Testament Christ is not at all accurate.

“When God desires all men to be saved, He is being consistent with who He is. In Isaiah 45:22 God said, ‘Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.’ Isaiah 55:1 invites ‘everyone who thirsts’ to ‘come to the waters’ of salvation. Again, in Ezekiel 18:23, 32 God states very clearly that He does not desire that the wicked should perish, but that they would sincerely repent (cf. Ezek. 33:11). In the New Testament, Peter writes, ‘The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).

“No true biblical theology can teach that God takes pleasure in the damnation of the wicked. Yet though it does not please Him, God will receive glory even in the damnation of unbelievers (cf. Rom. 9:22-23). How His electing grace and predestined purpose can stand beside His love for the world and desire that the gospel be preached to all people, still holding them responsible for their own rejection and condemnation, is a mystery of the divine mind. The Scriptures teach God’s love for the world. His displeasure in judging sinners, His desire for all to hear the gospel and be saved. They also teach that every sinner is incapable yet responsible to believe and will be damned if he does not. Crowning the Scripture’s teaching on thus matter is the great truth that God has elected who will believe and saved the before the world began. What mystery!” (Ibid, pp. 68-70)

To come to the knowledge of the truth is to be saved. Epignosis (knowledge) is used three other times in the Pastoral Epistles (2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1). In all four occurrences, it refers to the true knowledge that brings about salvation. Far from desiring their damnation, God desires the lost to come to a saving knowledge of the truth.

“Some have argued that this passage teaches universalism. If God desires the salvation of all men, they argue, then all will be saved, or God won’t get what He wants. Others argue that what God wills comes to pass, because all men means all classes of men, not every individual. NEITHER OF THOSE POSITIONS IS NECESSARY, HOWEVER. We must distinguish between God’s will of decree (His eternal purpose), and His will expressed as desire. Desire is not from boulomai, which would be more likely to express God’s will of decree, but from thelo, which can refer to God’s will of desire. This is precisely the distinction theologians often make between God’s secret will and His revealed will.

“God desires many things that He does not decree. It was never God’s desire that sin exist, yet the undeniable existence of sin proves that even sin fulfills His eternal purposes (Isa. 46:10)-though in no sense is He the author of sin (James 1:13).

“Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling’ (Matt. 23:37). John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse wrote, ‘We have found that God himself expressed an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass’ (The Free Offer of the Gospel [Phillipsburg, N. J.: Presb. & Ref., 1979], 26). God desires all men to saved. It is their willful rejection of Him that sends them to hell. The biblical truths of election and predestination do not cancel man’s moral responsibility.” (Ibid, pp. 70-71; capital and underline emphasis mine)

“Our Lord freely gave His life when He died for our sins… He voluntarily went to the cross and gave all of Himself, not merely something He possessed.

Ransom is a rich theological term, describing Christ’s substitutionary death for us. It is not the simple word for ransom, lutron, but antilutron, the added preposition intensifying the meaning. Christ did not merely pay a ransom to free us; He became the victim in our place. He died our death, and bore our sin. He gave Himself.

“The phrase gave Himself as a ransom for all is a comment on the sufficiency of the atonement, not its design. To apply a well-known epigram, the ransom paid by Christ to God for the satisfaction of His justice is sufficient for all, but efficacious for the elect only. Christ’s atonement is therefore unlimited as to its sufficiency, but limited as to its application.

“Real benefits accrue for all because of Christ’s all-sufficient atoning work. The gospel may be preached indiscriminately to all (Mark 16:15); the water of life and the offer of divine mercy are extended freely to all (Rev. 22:17); Christ is set forth as Savior for all to embrace (1 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 4:14). Moreover, in a temporal sense, the entire race was spared from immediate destruction and judgment when Adam sinned (a privilege not afforded to the angels who fell–Heb. 2:16), and individual sinners experience delay in God’s judgment on their sins. Nineteenth century theologian William G. T. Shedd wrote,

The atonement is sufficient in value to expiate the sin of all men indiscriminately; and this fact should be stated because it is a fact. There are no claims of justice not yet satisfied; there is no sin of man for which an infinite atonement has not been provided…. Therefore the call to “come” is universal (Dogmatic Theology [reprint: Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980], 2:482)

“That does not mean that all will be saved. Again, ‘many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matt 22:14). Christ’s death was sufficient to cover the sins of all people, but it is applied to the elect alone. The price paid was infinite. If billions more had been added to the number of the elect, Christ would not have been required to suffer one more stroke of divine wrath to pay the price for their sin. On the other hand, ‘had there been but one sinner, Seth, elected of God, this whole divine sacrifice would have been needed to expiate His guilt (R. L. Dabney, The Five Points of Calvinism [reprint: Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle, 1992], 61).

“So the infinite price our Savior paid was certainly sufficient for all. ‘Christ’s expiation is a divine act. It is indivisible, inexhaustible, sufficient in itself to cover the guilt of all the sins that will ever be committed on earth’ (Dabney, 61). Therefore salvation can sincerely and legitimately be offered to all, though only the elect will respond. Shedd writes, ‘The extent to which a medicine is offered is not limited by the number of persons favorably disposed to buy it and use it. Its adaptation to disease is the sole consideration in selling it, and consequently it is offered to everybody’ (Dogmatic Theology, 2:482).

“It is crucial to understand that the atoning work of Christ fully accomplishes everything God declared He would accomplish in eternity past with regard to the salvation of sinners. God’s sovereign purposes are not thwarted in any degree by the unbelief of those who spurn Christ. ‘I am God,’ He states, ‘and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure”’ (Isa. 46:9-10). The atonement of Christ does not represent a failed attempt to save anyone who will not be saved. All those whom God purposed to save from eternity past will be saved (cf. John 17:12).

“Yet it is worth reiterating once more that while God’s saving purpose is limited to the elect, His desire for the salvation of sinners is as broad as the human race. He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And so Christ gave Himself as a ransom sufficient for all. How graphically the atoning work of Christ reveals to us the heart of for the salvation of sinners!” (Ibid, pp. 71-73)


John Calvin and Particular Redemption Pt. 1


4 thoughts on “The Case for Unlimited Atonement Pt. 3

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