Different Purposes for the Atonement?, by John Kennedy

There are some who, Calvinists in their vows and Arminians in their tendencies, teach the doctrine of a double reference of the atonement; representing the atonement as offered in one sense for the elect, and in another sense for all. These maintain that there was a special atonement securing a certainty of salvation to some, and universal atonement securing a possibility of salvation to all.

Those who advocate the double reference of the atonement, profess to believe that Christ died in a sense for the elect, in which He died for none besides—that He died because He was their surety—that their sins alone were imputed to Him—that it is His relation to the elect which accounts for His death—that for them alone redemption was purchased—and that to none besides shall redemption be applied.

How can they then consistently hold that Christ died for all? It may be said that the call of the gospel must involve the salvability of those to whom it is addressed. This is traced to the death of Christ as an atonement of infinite value; and on that ground and to that effect it may be insisted that Christ died for all.

But how can this consist with this other doctrine, which they profess to believe—that no one is salvable without atonement. No atonement can make my salvation possible if it did not satisfy divine justice for my sins. How can the possibility of my salvation be before the mind of God, unless He sees my sins atoned for in the death of Christ? How could they be atoned for unless they were imputed to Him? And how could they be imputed to Him unless He was my surety?

If it be objected, that unless the salvation of all who are called is possible there is no hope for them, it is enough to reply, that just as surely as salvation is not possible without atonement, neither is it so without faith; and that instead of tracing the possibility of a universal salvation to a universal reference of the atonement, the wise and the right thing would be, to insist on the ability of Christ to save all who come to Him; on the certainty of salvation through faith; and on the impossibility of salvation without it.

But there is no atonement that is not satisfaction to divine justice. There was no satisfaction of justice that did not avail to the purchase of redemption. To say that the atonement, being of infinite value, is sufficient for all, is beside the mark, for the question is as to the divine intention.

Christ has power over all flesh but this was given to Him in order that He would give eternal life to as many as the Father gave Him. This power Christ has in reward of His death, but He has it for the salvation of His chosen. He died to procure all good for them.

The doctrine of the double reference is an oil and water mixture. It is opposed to Scripture. Those who hold it are in a transition state, and occupy no fixed dogmatic ground. Sometimes they seem staunch Calvinists, and at other times utter Arminians. They try to move on the boundary line between the two systems, and would fain keep a foot on either side. But the fence is too high to admit of this. They therefore display their agility in leaps from side to side.

To insist on a reference of the death of Christ to any who were not loved by God, whose sins were not imputed to, and atoned for by Christ, and who shall not be saved, is utterly opposed to Scripture. The way to conceal the manifest unscripturalness of this position is, to raise the dust of a double reference around it, by saying that it is not in the same sense Christ died for the elect, as for others. The special reference is not denied; it is so plainly taught in Scripture.

But where in Scripture is the other universal sense taught? A reference to 1 John 2:2 has been given as an answer to this question. But if there is a passage more conclusive than any other against the doctrine of a double reference it is that very one. It teaches that in the self-same sense in which Christ is the propitiation for the sins of those whose cause He pleads as Advocate, He is so “for the sins of the whole world”—of all to whom His atonement refers.

In all those passages which seem to some to teach the doctrine of a universal reference of the death of Christ, the death is seen connected either with love, or suretyship, or redemption.

Some remain professing Calvinists, that they might keep hold of their creed, and become de facto Arminians that they might get hold of their hearers. And there are preachers not a few, who seem to think that, though their speculations must be conformed to the system of Calvinism, they must be Arminians when they deal with the consciences of sinners. The consequence is, that so far as a practical presentation of doctrine is concerned, they are Arminians if they are anything. To tell men that Christ died for all, and that this is the basis on which the call to all is founded, is to quit hold of all that is distinctive to the true gospel in order to command the sympathies of unrenewed hearts.

By such a form of doctrine many teach more than they intend. Its phrases suggest to many minds the idea of universal grace, and encourage them in a Christless hope. Any protest against universal grace which are mingled with a double reference and to different purposes for the cross can be easily separated. The two elements are so incongruous that they will not combine; and in the hands of unconverted men it is not difficult to tell which shall be removed.

It is impossible to account satisfactorily for the death of Christ, except by ascribing it to His bearing imputed sin, with a view to His making atonement for it. It is impossible to account for His being “made sin,” but by His substitution for a guilty people. But if men believe that Christ died for many whose sin He did not bear, whose surety He was not, and whose redemption he did not purchase, they are adrift on a current which will carry them down to Socinianism.

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2 Comments on “Different Purposes for the Atonement?, by John Kennedy”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Was Christ Punished Before Sins Were Imputed to Him?

    1. if Christ is made sin before our sins are imputed to Him, then with what sin is Christ made sin?

    2. if Christ is already made sin before our sins are imputed to him,
    then what’s the point of God then later imputing to Christ the sins of the elect?

    John Piper (Taste and See) disagrees with Arminians for not teaching that Christ died to purchase faith for the elect. But John Piper does not disagree with Arminians about propitiation and substitution and punishment. “If you believe, the death of Jesus will cover your sins.”

    Piper’s gospel does not teach that Christ was already punished because of the imputed sins of the elect alone. It still only has a punishment in general, to be assigned later to those who believe.

    Even though Piper does insist that Christ also died for the elect to
    give them something extra that He will not be giving the non-elect, he does not publicly tell lost unbelievers that Christ was
    punished specifically for the imputed sins of the elect.

    When Piper leaves that out (does he ever get to that truth even after with post-conversion folks in conferences they paid to get into?), his gospel will be heard as saying that there was enough punishment done to Christ to save even people who will nevertheless end up being punished (with the second death).

    This both/and message makes the important taking away of
    sins to be something other than the punishment of Christ. It makes the real reconciliation to be the Spirit Christ purchased giving people a new nature and then faith to believe, even if they happen to believe a message that says Christ died for every sinner.

    The alternatives are to either claim that some of the people who have never heard the gospel are sovereignly saved anyway, or to claim as gospel the idea of punishment before any sins are imputed.

    If we jump ahead to the things Christ has bought for believers, even
    including their believing, without telling it straight about the
    punishment of Christ specifically for the specific sins of the elect,
    then we can easily tolerate a “gospel” which has no election or
    imputation in its news.

    If the death of Christ is not a result of God’s imputation of specific sins, then it is not the death of Christ which saves sinners. If the atonement is Christ purchasing faith to give elect sinners a portion in a general punishment, then the punishment of Christ is not ultimately what takes sins away.


  2. Some remain professing Calvinists, that they might keep hold of their creed, and become de facto Arminians that they might get hold of their hearers. The consequence is, that so far as a practical presentation of doctrine is concerned, they are Arminians if they are anything. It is impossible to account satisfactorily for the death of Christ, except by ascribing it to His bearing imputed sin, with a view to His making atonement for it.

    It is impossible to account for His being “made sin,” but by His substitution for a guilty people. But if men believe that Christ died for many whose sin He did not bear, whose surety He was not, and whose redemption he did not purchase, they are adrift on a current which will carry them down to Socinianism.

    http://www.the-highway.com/dual-reference_Kennedy.html


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