The shed blood of Christ Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” wrote the author the first epistle of John (1 John 2:2 NIV). This article presents a universality and particularity of atonement and showed that Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius held a similar understanding of the nature and extent of atonement.
I have studied and reflected 1 John 2:2 for the last 5 months. I have come to a conclusion that Christ shed his blood for all, post-Christ’s death and resurrection, without exception. This is the universality of the atoning work of Christ Jesus. The story, nonetheless, does not end here. The shed blood of Christ is, however, not extended to all without exception but to all without distinction. This is the particularity of the atoning work of Christ Jesus.
The shed blood of Christ extends or is applied particularly to believers, the elected or the called, whom in God’s proper time are also given the gift of regeneration that spring forth faith to receive it (Acts 13:48). Through the shedding of His blood, Christ’s righteousness is thus given to all without distinction. Christ’s righteousness is given to whomever believe (Rom. 3:22) in the person and work of Christ Jesus. Paul expounded:
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:25 NIV)
Christ’s finished work is given to all but applied to those who the Father has given His Son (John 6:32). They are the one who looks at His Son and believes in Him (John 6:40). They are the one whom the Father draws to His Son (John 6:44). They are the one the Father has enabled them to come to His Son (John 6:65). They are the one blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear because the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of God has been given to (Lk 8:10, Mt. 13:11, Mk 4:12, 1 Cor. 2:10, Co. 1:27). The cross is to “those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”(1 Cor. 24)
The saga of those who the Father freely and sovereignly lavished with His unfailing love and mercy ends with their future glorification. His Son will raise them up at the last day and give them eternal life (John 6:44)
It is not all without exception will have eternal life. There are those who are perishing. Those who are not being saved. To them, the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). They are those whom the Kingdom of God is not given too, thus everything is in parable so that they may not understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God (Mt. 13:1-13).
They are not blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear. For they will be ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving. No amount of signs and wonders done before them will make them believe in Christ Jesus because God has not bless them with eyes to see. John took it further and conclude that “they could not believe” because “He [God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I [the Suffering Servant] would heal them.”(John 12:36-40 NIV)
For Luther, Christ Jesus died for all but not for all unequivocally. He wrote,
In the first place, He [Christ Jesus] did not make a testament for all, because “He disinherits some,” as He says in John 17:9: “I am praying for them, not for the world.” Likewise in John 17:20: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who are to believe in Me through their word.” Likewise because He did not say “for all” but “which will be shed for many” (Mark 14:24; Matt. 26:28). And here (Heb. 9:15) we read: “So that those who are called may receive the promised eternal salvation.” But this touches on the subject of predestination, which is either too difficult or too harsh for our feeble intellect to be able to grasp. Therefore, to speak rather humbly, He left the legacy only to those who fear His name and believe in Him.(LW 29:214.)
Dealing with 1 Timothy 4:10, Luther distinguished “all men” and “those who believe”. He then concluded that the latter is saved eternally but not so with the former. Luther, thus, calls us to conclude that the general salvation of this passage is teaching us that “God saves all the faithful, but He does not save the faithless in the same way”(LW 28:261). More clearly he states: “For in an absolute sense Christ did not die for all, because He says: ‘This is My blood which is poured out for you’ and ‘for many’—He does not say: for all—‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 14:24, Matt. 26:28).”(LW 25:376)
Calvin took a similar position. In his comment on 1 John 2:2, he wrote: “He[John] added this [“and not for ours only”] for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.” (CC 1 John 2:2) He explored more on his Romans 5:18 commentary: “He [Christ Jesus] makes this favour common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.”(CR Rom. 5:18)
Arminius also held Luther’s and Calvin’s Reformed traditional understanding on this view. He wrote: “Of this latter sentiment [viz., Christ’s death is “the redemption, which was obtained by means of that price, is applied and communicated to all men and to every one”] I entirely disapprove, because God has by a peremptory decree resolved, that believers alone should be made partakers of this redemption.” (WA 1:316)
From the testimonies of Scripture and Luther, Calvin and Arminius I concluded Christ Jesus atoning work was for all people, post-Christ’s death and resurrection, without exception but is extended particularly to God’s chosen, those who He called. I may be wrong. But here I stand. I stand ready to be corrected.
Question: What about John 12:32, 2 Peter 3:9 and Ezekiel 33:11?
Next: Luther, Calvin and Arminius On Nature and Extend of Atonement