the extent of the atonement: what did Spurgeon believe?

I fully realize that I’ve not been posting with any constancy. To the two or three faithful readers of this site, I’ve down so intentionally for a reason. I love writing, so much that it is what I default to, but it can get in the way of more important things. The Adoption series has me pumped, and I hope we can continue down that road together, but I’ll scatter some other stuff in between.

This is far from begin along the lines of what I normally post, but it is a topic worthy of slight investigation, more to be of help than to stir controversial. The man Charles Spurgeon, the ministry of whom was so blessed by the Lord, has been cited as a “confused” man in his theological views. This man was so gentle and Christlike in his approach to issues of controversial nature (much more, I fear, than the author which you now read) that every camp desires to have some claim on him. In a book which I am browsing upon request, the author (an avid open-theist, Arminian, dispensationalist, &c) readily confesses to this man adhering to that form of doctrine known as “Calvinism”, but he reasons that he was against the view of definite atonement (“Limited” as its incorrectly called to fit the acronym TULIP). He used this quote  to support this claim:

I know there are some who think it is necessary to their system of theology to limit the merit of the blood of Jesus: if my theological system needed such limitation, I would cast it to the winds. I cannot,  I dare not, allow the thought to find lodging in my mind, it seems so near akin to blasphemy. In Christ’s finished work I see an ocean of merit; my plummet finds no bottom, my eye discerns no shore…having a divine Person for an offering, it is not consistent to conceive of limited value: bound and measure are terms inapplicable to the divine sacrifice.

And to this may all say Amen! It simply makes no sense to say that one as infinite a spring of life as Christ would have small sufficiency in His sacrificial death (this will have been brought home recently to Christ Church attenders, through Dr Snyder’s sermon on John 1:3. Those who were not treated to this delightful talk, ask me where to get it).

However, Spurgeon’s words are only those of every honest Calvinist. We assert that Christ”s sacrifice, because of the infinitude of His divine nature, could not be limited in its sufficiency, but limited in it efficiency: Christ had a specific people who He came to rescue. This is best summarized by another quote by Spurgeon:

The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question–did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer, “No”. They are obliged to admit this if they are consistent. They say, “No, Christ has died that any man might be saved if–” and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say, then, we will just go back to the old statement–Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say “no”; you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned,  he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? why, you….You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.

You see, a non definite atonement makes the words of Christ of none effect:

28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.


All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

In essence, Christ didn’t fail. It was all about Him and His Father! If Christ came to save all men, then indeed we must say that He has lost the multitudes which are now in Hell. This is about Christ fulfilling the mission to which God sent Him. (John 17:9; from one of the most important passages on the relationship between the Father and the Son.) Acts 20:28, Ephesians 5:25-27, Isaiah 53:10-12.

Now, some people love the doctrine of ‘universal atonement’ because they say it is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that ‘Christ should have died for all men’; it commends itself, they say, to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.

I admit there is; but beauty may be often associated with falsehood.

There is much which I might well admire in the theory of ‘universal redemption’ but let me just tell you what this supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were damned before He died; because if this doctrine (that He died for all men) is true, He died for some that were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were myriads there that had been cast away.

Once again, if it were Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed! For we have His own evidence that there is a lake that burns with fire and brimstone, and into that pit must be cast some of the very people, who according to that theory, were bought with His blood!

To think that my Savior died for men in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to imagine. That He was the substitute for the sons of men, and that God having first punished the substitute, punished these same men again, seems to me to conflict with any idea of justice.

That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards, some of those very men should be punished for the same sins which Christ had already atoned for, seems to me, to be the most marvelous monstrosity that ever could have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, aye, to the god of the Thugs, or the most diabolical heathen demons!

God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise.

The death of Christ is the foundation of the Christian’s hope. But those believing in a general redemption cannot possibly fully enjoy that blessed hope in Christ. They claim to believe in a redeemer who is not completely successful in redeeming the lost; an atonement that falls short of achieving its purpose; thus believing that the death of Christ must be joined with freewill in order to save. Fortunately, Jesus is a Redeemer who does deliver His people from sin; not just tries to deliver His people with the possibility of losing some of them. His grace is thoroughly efficacious in saving the elect, for whom He died. And one elected by the grace of God is bound to come to Him, for it would be then natural for him to do so.

–CH Spurgeon (Sermon, “The Mission of the Son of Man”)

Whatever your particular beliefs (no pun intended) are on this subject, I hope Spurgeon’s have been clarified.


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  1. #1 by A Friend on December 19, 2011 - 8:13 pm

    2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

    What does it mean when it says that he bought them?

    John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

    What does he really mean when he says “all people”?

    I hope to hear back from you soon,
    A Friend

    ~1Timothy 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

  2. #2 by Candace on January 7, 2012 - 4:52 pm

    From where did you get the sermon?

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