|For whom did Jesus Christ die?
I AM REVEALED
Mar 07 2011
God the Father gave us his Son, the Lord Jesus, not as a help towards salvation, but as a perfect Saviour. This means
that all those for whom the Saviour gave himself have obtained a perfect salvation through him. As a result, their
salvation depends in its entirety on Christ, and in no way on their own inclination, merits or consent.
Scripture calls this truth ‘eternal redemption’ (Hebrews 9:12) which the Saviour purchased for his people when ‘He had
by himself purged (their) sins’ (Hebrews 1:3). This passage alone expressly establishes the fact that those who will have
no share finally in this purification were not the objects of the sacrifice which procured it. In other words, the Saviour
did not offer himself for anyone other than those who through him would finally come into possession of
This truth is called divine election, or predestination (or better still, divine predetermination). Opposed to it is what can
only be referred to as universalism, though we normally reserve this term for the position to which this doctrine inevitably
and logically leads. This view holds that the Saviour offered himself as a sacrifice for every single member of the human
race without exception. In its most extreme form, this view is heretical: according to it, hell would no longer exist, for it is
held that all humanity, along with the devil and his angels, will be absorbed once again into the life of God.
It is clear, then, that election and universalism present radically different opinions concerning the sacrifice of the Son of
God. The first view, that of election, sees Christ’s death as a full, absolute and immutable expiation of the sins of all
those for whom this death was offered.
The second view, universalism, is quite different. While desiring to see in Christ’s sacrifice an oblation offered to satisfy
the majesty of the law of God on behalf of every descendant of Adam, it nevertheless fails to see a redemption which
has truly been accomplished. For it to have any real application to him, it remains necessary for an individual sinner to
consent to this redemption, and to accept it for himself. [This form of universalism is known today as universal
I believe it is not an exaggeration, nor too rigid and dogmatic a statement, to affirm that these two divergent doctrines do
not flow from the same principle. The first view sees in the expiatory death of the Lord Jesus the full and final
redemption of the elect people of God. The other, by contrast, considers this redemption as complete only after a
person has consented to it.
At present, it is not my intention to examine this question in depth. For the moment I simply want to examine in a manner
which is not controversial and in a spirit of brotherly love the principal passages quoted in support of a universal
atonement. My aim is to set out what I believe to be the true meaning of the texts, but without in any way imposing my
opinion on the reader.
Before we commence this useful study, I want to make a remark that might well surprise a Christian who holds to a
universal atonement. It is to the effect that such teaching does not give to the triune God the honour he is due. Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit are robbed of the glory due to their love, wisdom, justice, faithfulness and truthfulness.
Of course universal atonement claims the opposite to be true. In support of its system (though it denies that it follows
any dogmatic system), it begins by claiming that it at least considers God to be a God of love, mercy and justice. By
contrast, it affirms, the alternative system (absolute election) depicts God rather as a despot, virtually a tyrant, totally
insensitive to the awful misery of those he chose not to save. Such a system, they say, is surely unjust in its dealings
with these poor mortals. They did not choose to exist, yet God, having withdrawn from them all personal responsibility,
by his own free and inflexible decision excludes them forever from heaven. Those who hold to universal atonement go
so far in their criticism of absolute election that they do not hesitate to describe it as dangerous because it almost always
leads, they claim, to antinomianism – that is, to the neglect of the performance of the practical duties of sanctification.
It can only be helpful and charitable to point out to a believer who holds such views that, while he may not recognize it,
his doctrine clearly belittles the very love of God that it purports to uphold. It also negates other divine attributes such
as God’s omniscience, wisdom, power and immutable will. In addition, as we have already demonstrated, it strips the
Saviour’s sacrifice of its expiatory character by introducing on the part of man a responsibility, as weak as it is fanciful,
which totally disregards the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit.
It is my strong conviction that the Christian disciple who holds to a universal atonement and argues in defence of this
system of theology does so without realizing its implications. He is well aware that Scripture teaches that all that is not of
the truth is a lie (I John 2:21). Similarly, even though committed unwittingly, every error is nonetheless a sin (Leviticus 5:
17-19, Numbers 15:28).
It is my firm conviction that the doctrine of universal atonement is erroneous, and therefore a lie. It is for this reason that
I am concerned to liberate from the snares that await us in all our ways (Hosea 9:8) those of my fellow believers who
cling to this doctrine. I aim to do so by demonstrating the extent to which their system of doctrine – and system it most
certainly is – is in conflict with the holy attributes of God. My prayer is that they might be willing to hear me, and to
compare what I say with the infallible Word of God.
Universal atonement destroys the love of God
First of all I declare that God is not love if, having made the salvation of a sinner depend in its entirety on the gift and the
death of his Son, he then refrains from giving him the means by which to profit from this gift. And yet this clearly is the
case. If God delivered Jesus to death as much for Pharaoh, Judas Iscariot or some pagan emperor as he did for Abel or
the apostle John, he certainly did not give them equally the means of grace.
According to the universal view of the atonement God would have loved the first three as much as the last two, even
though he did not cause the gospel message to reach two of the first three, nor the message to be effective in the
experience of the third. But, in fact, the sole reason that Abel and the apostle John believed in the gift of the Saviour,
and for which their hearts submitted to him, was most certainly that God caused them to hear the message of his grace
(Romans 10:14-15). Their response was the consequence of this same God having opened their hearts and having
filled them with zeal on the day that he worked mightily upon them (Acts 16:14; Psalm 110:3).
If neither Pharaoh nor the pagan monarch ever heard of the grace of God in Jesus, and if Judas was not ‘given…an
understanding that [he might] know him who is true’ (I John 5:20), does the ultimate explanation not lie in what God did
not give them? In that case, where is this divine love of which universal atonement speaks? According to this erroneous
view, God, in Christ, clearly loved all three of these men, and sacrificed his Son for them. However, he subsequently
reduced this love to the point where he deprived them of every means whereby this mercy might be known, or at least
enjoyed. If God were to act like that, would he be love? This is the serious question that I ask.
Universal atonement destroys the wisdom of God
God’s wisdom is impugned, along with his justice, power, faithfulness or truthfulness if, having given his Son for every
single member of the human race, he nonetheless permits hell to exist. That is true, above all, if he allows this place of
perdition to lay hold upon even one of the sons of Adam, for every one of whom, we are told, the Son of God died on the
Where is the wisdom of God in such a plan of salvation which gives to man’s will a position where he is able to render
the decree of the Eternal God ineffective? Did God not know in advance that man would oppose this decree? Or
rather, if he foresaw it, was there no remedy by which to save man from finally being cursed?
Universal atonement destroys the justice of God
Divine justice, too, is missing in a transaction in which the Son of God really suffered his Father’s curse on the cross for
every member of the human race, if the majority of these people must still suffer all over again, in hell for ever, for the
same sins for which the Saviour has already borne the penalty.
Those who hold to a universal atonement will respond by arguing that Christ’s death was not an actual expiation in the
sense that it procured results which were assured and effective. It had to do only with a certain satisfaction offered to
the offended law of God, which a man must subsequently appropriate for himself by believing in it, thereby making it
effectual in his own experience.
To this I reply by asking, ‘In such a Socinian, and consequently useless, admission, where was the justice of God which
caused Jesus to suffer the curse for undefined, hypothetical and theoretical offences?’
Universal atonement destroys the power and truthfulness of God
Where is the power of God if, having willed that Jesus should redeem every descendant of Adam, he has failed to
accomplish his purpose? If this be so, then the evil inclinations of a person’s heart have prevailed over the will of God.
All God determined to do, and every attempt he made to overcome the evil of a sinner’s heart, has been rendered futile.
And where is the truthfulness of God? He himself declares quite specifically that all things have been made subject to
him, that all has been done with a particular goal in mind, and that all the redemption that is in Christ Jesus redounds to
the praise of his glorious grace (Psalm 119:91; Proverbs 16:4; Ephesians 1:6). But universal atonement robs him of his
kingship, of much of what he counted on accomplishing, and of seeing his grace glorified in a multitude of souls.
Universal atonement destroys the work of the Son of God
If the attributes of the Father are, to say the least, compromised by universal atonement, is it less so with regard to the
work of the Son? In no way is it so. We see this as we consider firstly the work of his heart, and then the work of the
In the Gospels Jesus describes himself as the Bridegroom, tender and devoted to those souls for whom he came from
heaven. He declares that he will love them to the very end, by laying down his life for them. But where is this dedication
of heart if these souls, all of them, every single one of them, do not taste the fruit of such love? We would then have to
conclude that there was pretence and inconsistency in Christ’s heart. If he really did give himself for every single
person, and all do not ultimately share the final results of that love, we would have to conclude that the love he
professed was feigned, and that there were inconsistencies in his heart.
The fact is that in his work on the cross, Christ did exercise more saving power towards some people than towards
others. Since according to universal atonement he was nailed to the tree for every person, it follows that there must
have been duplicity and deceit in his heart. Besides, was it not pretence for him to offer himself on behalf of great
crowds of people for whom, in fact, his work on the cross was to have such little saving effect that he himself will say to
these thousands of people, ‘I never knew you…Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire’? (Matthew 7:23;
Universal atonement destroys the work of the Holy Spirit
As the members of a body are joined to its head, so the Holy Spirit has united to Jesus all those for whom
the Saviour died. The unitarian denies not only the divine nature of Christ but also the expiatory nature of his
sacrifice. He reduces the latter to a sort of provisional satisfaction offered to the law in a way which is as confused as it
is unjust. How different it is for the Christian who sees the offering of the Saviour, the Head of the body of the
redeemed, in the sacrifice of the cross. It is for this reason what he views the Head as indissolubly united by the Holy
Spirit to all its members. Such a believer understands Jesus to be intimately joined by the Holy Spirit to all those for
whom he was sacrificed, when he cried, ‘My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?’ That is why he views him as
‘wounded for our transgressions, [and] bruised for our iniquities’ – that is, for the sins and iniquities of those for whom
this offering was made.
For a Christian who holds to universal atonement, it is really to every single member of the human race that the Eternal
Spirit united Christ when the Lamb of God was put to death on the cross. Now when the Spirit brings back from the dead
the ‘Great Shepherd of the sheep’ (Hebrews 13:20), he raised him also for the justification of all those for whose sins
Christ was delivered over to death (Romans 4:25). According to this view, then, it is on behalf of every descendant of
Adam that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and recovers for them that life which the soul had lost under the divine
After his resurrection, Christ (the Head of the body) entered heaven with ‘the blood of the eternal covenant’. As great
High Priest he now appears in the presence of God on behalf of all those for whom his sacrifice was completed (for
whom, say those who hold to universal atonement, his blood was shed). Even now, Jesus is interceding before his
Father, pleading that from the fullness of its Head his body might receive abundant grace and consolation. We must ask
why it is, then, that the Holy Spirit does not still maintain this initial union between the Head of the body and so many of
its original members? He does so to such a small extent indeed that, far from communicating to them the benefits of the
High Priest’s intercession, he rather leaves some in total ignorance of this work and others to neglect and despise these
Has the Holy Spirit too become inconsistent? Or, like the Father and the Son, does he have the will to bless a certain
soul without, in fact, having the ability to do so? That is the logical implication of the position which universal atonement
If my subject were human responsibility, this would be the place to examine and assess the statements which this
teaching makes regarding ‘free will’ in religious experience. It would be necessary particularly to evaluate the notion that
the Saviour truly procured the salvation of every descendant of Adam, that the invitation which is extended to every
sinner is really sincere, but the responsibility for his refusal of this grace devolves upon the sinner himself who does not
want to go to Christ that he might have life (John 5:40).
We will say a few words on human responsibility at the conclusion of this present study. Let it suffice for the moment to
say that the whole subject of man’s ‘free will’ in relation to salvation rests on the principle that the death of Christ did not
make atonement for sin. But such expiation is expressly taught in Scripture. It is much wiser (and indeed more useful)
to set aside totally the subtleties of human reasoning on this point, which will be for ever hidden to man, and in simple
faith to listen only to the Word of God itself. I want to turn once again to this Word just before I begin the study which will
occupy us for the rest of this book.
This inspired Word presents Christ as saying to his Father, ‘I have come…to do your will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:7-9). It
further declares that this divine will consists in Christ’s giving eternal life to all those whom the Father had given him.
Does that not mean that all those whom the Father has given him will most certainly have eternal life, and not just some
people, such as the eleven faithful apostles? That is the question I must put to the Christian who adheres to universal
atonement. Jesus cannot, in fact, fail to do the will of his Father (Psalm 40:7-9). Besides, does this not mean that the
Father did not actually give to Christ those who will never ultimately possess eternal life, (Judas Iscariot, for example),
and that Christ did not give himself for them? (John 6:38-39; 17:2).
According to the Scriptures, moreover, those whom God reconciled to himself by Christ’s death – and that is many
people in fact – having already been reconciled by the Son’s death, will be saved by his life (Romans 5:10). Surely this
means that those who ultimately will not be saved by the life of the Son of God had clearly never been reconciled by his
death? Surely if they had been included in his death, would they not ‘much more’ as Scripture puts it, be included in his
life? In other words, is this not saying that Christ did not die for those people personally?
This same Word of God further declares that those for whom God did not spare his Son, those for whom he delivered
him to death, will receive all things with him (Romans 8:32). Among the blessings they enjoy are growth, faith, a deeper
union with Jesus, courage to confess his name, hope, patience, separation from the world, and all the encouragements
and joys communicated by the Holy Spirit. Does this not imply that those who will not finally receive these ‘all things’
never in fact belonged to those for whom God did not spare his Son?
Again God’s Word declares that those who have been redeemed through the death of Jesus will be gathered together
‘one from a city, two from a family’ (Jeremiah 3:14), and the scattered children of God, from among the many tribes and
nations of the world, will be made one (John 11:52). Now surely this signifies that the redeemed of the Saviour are not
to be identified with these tribes and nations in their totality, but that they constitute only a portion of them, indeed only a
small part of them at that?
Finally, Scripture tells us that those for whom the Bridegroom, the Lamb of God, was slain, are the bride of the Son of
God who will be presented to him in heaven in gleaming holiness (John 3:29; Revelation 19:7). The Bible speaks of the
Good Shepherd’s sheep who ‘will never perish’ (John 10:28; Psalm 45:11). Does that not indicate that the Bridegroom
of that bride, the Shepherd of that flock, did not offer himself for the world in its entirety which at present ‘lies in evil’?
On the great day of retribution, the day when the ‘eternal sacrifice’ will be consummated, this world will be covered in
dishonor. Then, far from being seen as the holy flock of the Holy One of Israel, the world will be revealed as a multitude
of goats ready for perdition.
In all sincerity I ask, ‘Do these various statements of divine truth not contain implications which cause us to raise the
question, as we have done?’ And yet that is precisely what the Scriptures proclaim. In this way, through a salvation
which was decreed, executed, of necessity revealed and perfectly accomplished by God, Scripture exalts the love,
justice, power, faithfulness, truthfulness and finally the glory of Almighty God.
If this so, why, I wonder, do some of my fellow believers refuse to accept the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God’
s grace? Why do they rather prefer to replace it with a mixture of God’s sovereign will on the one hand, and on the
other, the corrupted will, selfish acceptance or dubious and uncertain consent of a creature born in the darkness of sin
and death? Would this creature, whose nature now alienates him from his Creator, obtain (in principle, practice or
feeling) more happiness, peace or joy in believing that he himself had contributed towards his salvation, and in some
respect at least, to have accomplished it? Is it not better for him to attribute his salvation in its entirety to the love of
God, just as he owes his whole existence to God? Do not the Father’s gift of his Son, the Son’s gift of himself and the
application of the benefits of both by the Holy Spirit not exalt supremely the Holy Trinity? Do we give more glory to God
by maintaining that the gift of salvation was not decreed and defined by him, and that the accomplishment of salvation
depends on a condition that the objects of this grace must first fulfil themselves?
A godly person holding to a universal atonement might well concede that this question would be unanswerable if such
passages were all that Scripture had to say on the subject. But what are we to make of the numerous passages likewise
found in the Bible which support universal atonement as strongly as the verses we have quoted in support of the
sovereignty of God’s grace? These passages, it is claimed, modify or even contradict those we have just quoted, or
rather they expressly teach that the triune God is glorified in a way which is very different from the doctrine we hold.
According to this view, which they claim is based on the full teaching of God’s Word, while divine election is indeed
presented very positively, it is nonetheless accompanied by two other truths. One truth is that God gave the Lord Jesus
for each descendant of Adam. The other is that God’s actual will for man (a moral creature, who is free and responsible
for his own actions) is that he should have a personal, voluntary and active part to play in coming to understand and
possess his own salvation. If we find such teaching in the Bible, are we not bound as humble disciples of all of Scripture
to submit to all it reveals and declares, even though we are unable to sound the depth of the mystery of salvation or
perhaps to reconcile statements which appear contradictory?
By so doing, it is claimed, are we not more unpretentious, humble and submissive to the message of Scripture than by
recklessly venturing to commentate according to our own understanding, and in support of a system of doctrine, reading
into a text our own understanding? Is the former not the pathway to the Spirit’s blessing? Is it not in stating honestly
and without preference the two great truths, the Father’s sovereign election and Christ’s death for all men, that I will be
both honest and true?
Such a response is very solemn indeed, particularly when it comes from a devout believer whose confidence for his
eternal salvation rests entirely in God’s grace in having given the gift of his Son. For this reason I must respect him.
Since my understanding of how the Father’s will was fulfilled by the death of Christ is totally opposed to that of my friend,
I must examine with the greatest possible care those passages of Scripture that he quotes in support of what I consider
to be his error. If I find that I have been mistaken, I must confess my error; equally if I find him to be mistaken, I am
under an obligation to tell him so.
I must be careful to avoid two errors which are easily committed. One is to content myself with a purely superficial study
of a passage, as if it were detached, quite separate from the whole body of truth. The other is to act as if I wanted to
impose my own particular conviction on my fellow believer. On the one hand, I must consider the gold coin in its totality,
examining in turn its inscription, its weight, and finally its value. On the other hand, I must not forget that the person who
explains or expounds the Scriptures is only a signpost along the roadside, telling a passer-by which road to take, while
always refraining from constraining him to do so.
Socinianism: A system of doctrine which holds that any idea of mystery must be removed from theology for nothing must
run counter to reason.
THE CHURCH IS MINE, by César Malan, Copyright 2001, EVANGELICAL PRESS.
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