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No Gospel in a Limited Atonement

The gospel from the days of its inception has been under attack. Satan will continue to do everything within his subtle and deceptive power to destroy or diminish it. He has no qualms about whom he uses to do his dirty work. He will use a secularist to assail the historicity of the resurrection, and create doubts about the authenticity of the message. He will use the religionist to argue that the cross represents the consummate act of an exemplary life, demonstrating what it takes to earn a resurrection from the dead rather than what it really is—a vicarious substitution for sinners and the payment for their sins. Perhaps his greatest delight is to use the Christian theologian for the purpose of limiting that atonement. If he cannot destroy the message, he is certainly willing to take what he can get to diminish its appeal or application to a lost and dying world.

What exactly is the gospel? Well, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, Paul declared to the church at Corinth the same message he preached to them while they were still lost in their sins—a message they received and by which they were saved through faith in the Christ who suffered in their stead. Paul delivered to them what he had first received from the Lord, that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen…” (15:3-5). The good news Paul preached was that God in Christ had provided a remedy for (i.e., had done something about) their sins, and attested to the nature and value of Christ’s death by raising him from the dead on the third day.

Paul believed without equivocation that Jesus Christ died for all men without distinction or exception, and therefore could look with confidence into the eye of any man anywhere on the planet, and declare, “Christ died for your sins!” No pulpiteer who lacks that confidence has any right to call himself a gospel preacher, because the cross is the crux of the gospel. Earlier in the epistle, Paul affirmed that preaching the cross of Christ was equivalent to preaching the gospel (1:17-18). Preaching the gospel is preaching Christ crucified (1:23). Preaching Christ crucified is to declare to every sinner that Christ died for his or her sins, and that his precious blood was shed for them. According to Jesus, Paul’s boss, the gospel was meant to infiltrate “all the world” and to be heard by “every creature” (Mark 16:15). So much for limitations!

Preachers of a limited atonement will find themselves at odds with Paul and his gospel. Intellectual honesty will require of them to declare the following to their congregations: “Christ may or may not have died for your sins! Call upon the Lord Jesus and cross your fingers! If he died and rose again for you, he will save you. If you were excluded from that limited number for whom Christ died, he has neither the desire nor the ability to save you!” Few if any limited atonement preachers will ever display that kind of honesty, but it is exactly the dilemma they face when they attempt to limit to a select number what Paul openly applied to all!

In an effort to mask the aforementioned dilemma, limited atonement preachers typically resort to redefining the gospel. Charles Haddon Spurgeon is an example. In a sermon entitled “Election No Discouragement To Seeking Souls”, Spurgeon made this statement: “Furthermore, if we understand the gospel at all, the gospel lies in a nutshell. It is this: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…This promise is the gospel” (Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 8, p. 233). Well, it is clear that Paul understood the gospel, and would have this to say to Spurgeon: “That promise, brother Charles, is not the gospel. It is the offer (or promise) of forgiveness and life eternal based upon the gospel that Christ died for our sins!” Because Spurgeon embraced the false doctrine of limited atonement, it was impossible for him to declare the gospel that Paul articulated. He was forced to redefine it because of the limited value and scope he placed upon the death of Christ.

In the same message, Spurgeon declared: “If any man who ever lived, or ever shall live, believes in Jesus Christ, he hath eternal life. Election or no election, if you are resting upon the rock of ages, you are saved. If you, as a guilty sinner, take the righteousness of Christ—if, all black and foul and filthy, you come to wash in the fountain filled with blood—sovereignty or no sovereignty, rest assured of this, that you are redeemed from the wrath to come” (Ibid, p. 233).

Now, these words are commendable, but hypocritical. Spurgeon’s theology taught him that there was neither effectual grace nor a fountain filled with blood for those excluded from the atonement. Spurgeon’s words are indicative of his intellectual dishonesty in this area. Moreover, they enable us to understand that the great success of Spurgeon’s ministry can be largely attributed to his inconsistencies with the tenets of Calvinism rather than his embrace of them.

The false doctrine of limited atonement has no place in gospel preaching for there is little or no gospel in it. Yet many good men of God fall prey to its philosophical appeal. If you are attending a church with a limited atonement pastor, then your church is virtually gospel-free. Lost sinners will never hear the good news that Christ died for their sins unless the pastor’s preaching is inconsistent with his doctrine, as was Spurgeon’s. If such is the case, may his inconsistencies abound to the glory of God!


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