Limited Atonement
Statement of Doctrine

In the intention and secret plan of God, Christ died for the elect only, and His death had only an incidental reference to others in so far as they are partakers of common grace. If God elected some and not others to eternal life, then it logically follows that Christ's primary purpose was to redeem the elect.

Scriptural Support

Luke 19:10 (note to save, not to make possible); Isaiah 53:8; John 10:10-11, 14-18, 25-29; Mark 10:45; Luke 1:68; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:28; Galatians 1:3-4; Matthew 1:21; Acts 20:28

The Infinite Value of Christ's Atonement

  1. The Atonement is an infinite transaction between the Father and the Son for the salvation of the elect. It is "limited" only in a theological sense because its benefits are applied to the elect only through redemption.

    • The value of the Atonement depends upon the dignity of the person making it. Since Christ suffered as a Divine-human person, the value of His suffering is infinite.

  2. Calvinists do not teach that Christ would have suffered more were the elect a larger number than it is. Christ would have suffered the same for one soul as for a large number or all mankind.

    • A sinner by transgressing God has offended a Person of infinite dignity, has been sentenced to suffer eternally, and needs an atonement of infinite value to save him.

The Atonement's Limited Purpose and Application

  1. The value of the Atonement was sufficient to save all mankind, but it was efficient to save only the elect.

    • We are not fully told why God does not choose to save all mankind.

  2. If the Atonement's application is universal, then the inherent value of the Atonement is destroyed since some men are lost.

    • The conclusion would then have to be that Christ's Atonement does not save anyone, but only makes it possible for all men to co-operate with divine grace and save themselves.

  3. Arminians limit the work of Christ as certainly as the Calvinists do.

    • Calvinists limit the extent -- it does not apply to all but effectively saves some (a quantitative limit).

    • Arminians limit the power -- it does apply to all but effectively saves none (a qualitative limit).

A Perfect Fulfillment of the Law

  1. God demanded perfect obedience of Adam. Adam's failure to obey placed the entire race under the curse of sin, but it did not change God's demand: He still requires perfect obedience.

    • If the benefits of the atonement were universal and unlimited, then the atonement must have been simply a sacrifice to blot out the curse which rested on Adam's race. Therefore,

      1. the atonement must not have been a perfect satisfaction of the demands of justice,

      2. God now offers salvation on lower terms than perfect obedience, and

      3. God removes the legal obstacles of salvation and accepts whatever faith and obedience a person chooses to offer.

    • Calvinists believe that God has never done anything to convey that the law was too rigid, too severe, or in need of fixing. Divine justice demands that the sinner shall be punished (either in himself or in a substitute).

      1. Christ acted in a substitutionary way for His people (the elect). He made full satisfaction for their sins, blotting out Adam's curse and all their temporal sins.

      2. Christ's merits are imputed to His people as the only basis of their salvation. Thus, grace is not a lowering of salvation's requirements but is Christ's substitution extended to His people.

  2. If Arminianism is correct, then Christ has died for many who are lost.

    • What value is Christ's death for anyone, saved or not, if in the end many are lost for whom He suffered and died?

    • "If God punished Christ for your sins, He will not punish you."


  1. Christ is said to be a ransom for His people -- "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28)."

    • The nature of a ransom is such that when paid and accepted it automatically frees the persons for whom it was intended; otherwise, it would not be a true ransom.

    • If the sufferings and death of Christ was a ransom for all men rather than for the elect only, then the merits of His work must be communicated to all alike and the penalty of eternal punishment cannot be justly inflicted on any.

The Divine Purpose in Christ's Sacrifice

  1. If God's purpose was to save all men by Christ's sacrifice, then He is unable or unwilling to accomplish His purpose.

    • However, God's purposes are neither mutable nor fallible.

    • God's purposes were chosen with infinite wisdom and power behind them. They cannot fail and do not need to be altered.

  2. Christ Himself limits the purpose of His death when He said, "I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:14-15)

    • Christ laid His life down for the sheep, His friends (John 15:13), and the Church (Acts 20:28; John 15:13). This cannot include the reprobate.
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