Nowadays we are assailed from all sides with the novel and un-Biblical doctrine that Christ actually died to atone for all sinners, though this atonement is only a theoretical provision to be made good by the agency of man. Such a teaching is called Theoretical Universalism and such a teaching is demonstrably false. This teaching does not distinguish between the state of man before the fall and his state after the fall, viewing all men as on probation, like Adam, until they reject or accept Christ. There are seven good reasons for rejecting this error: 

 

1. The objects of redemption are the objects of God’s love

     God has a special saving love which must be distinguished from His general, providential goodness to all men. God does not love all men savingly. For instance, He says, “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” There is thus no common grace pointing to the possibility of salvation for all men, but only a selective saving grace through which Christ secures a people whom He calls variously His Bride, His Church, or His sheep. These people are in a special relationship to God as His right and property. 

 

2. The objects of redemption are the same as the objects of election

     Christ died for His elect ones. Romans 8:30-33 and Ephesians 1:4-7 show that the election, predestination, calling, justification and glorification of God’s loved ones were sealed in eternity. Those who are elected are those whom God loves and who are redeemed. These are not restricted to any nation but are freely chosen by God from all fallen peoples as vessels of mercy. What Christ has purchased with His blood belongs to Him and there is no danger of His losing His possessions. God has not left salvation to the whims of man as thus none would be saved. 

 

3. The objects of redemption are the same as those for whom Christ is a Surety

     Christ is the Surety of a better covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace. This suretyship is the grounds and foundation of redemption and in His engagement of it, Christ bore the sin and punishment of His people to redeem them from the hands of justice. He, however, was not obliged to redeem those for who He was not a Surety. Christ is not the Surety of every man but only those who were put under that suretyship from the foundation of the world. Thus, Christ’s suretyship and redemption are of equal extent and the same people are placed under both. 

 

4. The objects of redemption are a chosen people

     Both the Old and New Testaments proclaim that Christ is to die for and thus redeem His own people (Isaiah 53:8; Matthew 1;21 etc.). Though all men are created by God, they are not accounted on that ground as belonging to His redeemed children. Christ does not redeem all universally but He universally chooses people from out of “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” worldwide (Revelation 5:9). These are God’s covenant people of whom He said “They shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jeremiah 11:4 etc.). 

 

5. The objects of redemption are those for who Christ paid a ransom

     Christ gave His life for His sheep who are a definite people discernable by Him from others, also called goats in the Scriptures. Only Christ’s sheep know Him, are led by Him and follow Him (John 10:15-29). To others, He says, “Depart from me; I know you not.” Indeed, the gospel is revealed to the sheep but hid from the goats. It is Christ’s sheep alone who shall never perish and enjoy their Saviour for ever. 

 

6. The objects of redemption are the sons of God.

     These children of God are predestined and adopted to be fellow-heirs with Christ and as such are distinguishable from the children of flesh. They are a fixed number which cannot be altered and thus partakers of a special grace which is given to none but them (John 11:52; Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:26; John 1:12; John 3:1). 

 

7. The object of redemption is Christ’s Bride, the Church

     The Old Testament tells believers that their maker is their Husband and their Redeemer the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 54:5). In the New Testament Christ is depicted as the Husband who so loved His Bride, that He gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). This Bride is also called God’s “general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven”, i.e. in the Lamb’s Book of Life, who are members of the New Covenant which was sealed through the shedding of Christ’s blood (Hebrews 12:23 ff.). 

 

Theoretical Universalists deny God’s perfections

     The idea that God loves savingly those whom He will not save is a total denial of God’s love. The idea that God in His wisdom planned a scheme whereby redemption is made for all but God does not succeed in redeeming all, is a total denial of God’s planning wisdom. The idea that God, in His justice, contrived a means by which Christ was punished for all men and bore all men’s sins and yet God did not allow all men to go free is to deny God’s justice. If Christ has paid the debts of all men, all men must, for the sake of justice, be declared free. If God designed to save all and all are not saved, this denies the power of God to do that which He desires and wills. This dogma would even make man more powerful than God as God proposes but man overrules God’s proposal. The Bible, however, reveals a God for whom nothing is too hard or impossible and whose will is almighty. The Universalist error also denies the immutability of God as it represents Him as being of two minds in salvation and both willing and not willing the salvation of all men at the same time. His love for all is changed into His hatred of some. The Bible teaches that in God there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. This universal scheme robs God of His chief end and glory. If His ultimate aim is the redemption of all men to His own glory, and some for whom Christ became a ransom are not saved, He has failed in both His aim and glory. The Universalist has thus a god void of all his perfections and who is in the end, less powerful than man. 

 

Theoretical Universalism denies Christ’s love and grace

     If Christ loved all men so that He died for all and all men do not partake of that love and vicarious death, then Christ’s love and grace were not sufficient for their task. Christ says that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. If ‘friends’ are interpreted, in Christ’s case, as all, Christ loved and died in vain. If ‘friends’ are the sum total of those for whom Christ intended to die and for whom He died successfully, then Christ’s love and grace for His own is established as complete. This universal scheme also reflects negatively on the work of Christ. If He has made satisfaction for everyman, everyman must go free. If Christ has paid a price for all, but many remain unpaid for, then either the price was not valid or the payment was not enough. In dying for His people, Christ purchased not only their redemption but also their reconciliation with God. The Universalists, however, only teach a one-sided reconciliation, i.e. that of God being reconciled to man, which is no reconciliation at all because a reconciliation is always of at least two parties. Where man is not reconciled to God, Christ’s work of reconciliation was in vain. That is if Christ had died to reconcile all men everywhere. The Bible, however, teaches clearly that Christ was a ransom for the many but not for all. 

 

Theoretical Universalism denies a sure redemption

     If Christ died for the redemption of all and all are not redeemed, that redemption never took place. If salvation failed in one part, there is no certainty or surety that it will work in the other and we thus have no gospel to preach. 

 

Universal redemption separates the work of Christ from its accomplishment

     Christ did not die, rise again and now intercedes for all men. If He did, all would be the objects of Christ’s intersession. But Christ says that He does not pray for the world (i.e. all men) but for those whom God has given Him only (John 17:9). It is absurd and incredible to think that Christ separates His work from what resulted from that work. Those for whom He died are those for whom He prays. It is absurd and incredible to think that Christ died for those for whom He would not pray.  Boyce takes up this dichotomy in Fuller’s doctrine of an atonement which does not reconcile, arguing conclusively that Fullerism entails two separate works of Christ: the work of Redemption which is for all and the work of atonement which is for some. Redemption merely means that a mode of reconciliation and a medium of acceptance has been provided – even for those who shall not be saved and for those who are already damned. This is a theory of no practical saving value and is incompatible with Scripture’s concerning the choosing of the elect before the foundation of the world and Christ’s dying for them before the foundation of the world. These passages show that Christ died solely for those whom He redeemed and reconciled to God (See John 10:11, 15, 26-28; John 17:9, 19; Romans 5;8-9; Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:20).1

 

Universalism holds that Christ cannot see the travail of His soul and be satisfied

     If Christ died for all men but all men are not saved, Christ will never see the travail of His soul and be satisfied (Isaiah 53). The joy that was set before Him in enduring the cross must now be turned into disappointment because the plan of salvation failed. Now the millions whom He loved are howling in hell because His atonement failed to atone.

 

The outcome of the Theoretical Universalist’s scepticism

     Such Universalists believe that Christ died for sins that are irremissible (Matthew 12:31, 32; 1 John 5:16). His redemption for all is useless for most or, at least, many. Christ affords no grounds for faith and hope if those who are redeemed can fall and perish. The Bible exhorts, however, sinners to trust in Christ “for with him is plenteous redemption” (Psalm 130:7). Nor, if Universalism were true, have would-be believers any grounds to love Christ or to be thankful for Him as they would have been destroyed had they not appropriated salvation for themselves. This would cause self-love but hardly love for a god who merely provides a means of reconciliation but leaves all the struggle to accomplish it to the sinner himself. The efficacy of salvation is then not Christ’s death so much as the sinner’s will and work in grasping the benefits for himself.

 

The true goal and extent of salvation

     The corollary of this is that redemption is not universal in that all men are redeemed but it is for those for whom the redemption price is paid. Redemption is bought for God’s people at the highest possible price and given to the elect freely for no other reason than God’s love for them. This gift is all of grace and sinners have no agency whatsoever in it. Any claim from believers that their agency helped procure their salvation, is a testimony of ungratefulness and unbelief and not the fruit by which true believers are known. Christ saves all those whom He redeems and Christ’s redemption is for those alone.

     This redemption is agreeable to all the perfections of God, springing from His love, grace and kindness. It is planned and carried out in and by the infinite wisdom of God and reflects His peace-bringing justice, honour, mercy, truth, and righteousness which are pledged for ever to a people who are the apple of His eye and whom He will never forsake. No sinner could redeem himself like this or perform any works of salvation on his own. Man’s infinite sin demands an infinite ransom leading to an infinite satisfaction. Only God in Christ has the power to do this and only He has truly done this. The redemption which Christ obtained as its Author and Finisher is freely given to those and those only for whom Christ worked it out (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30). This redemption is particular, choosing out a special people from the nations, the Church, and the redemption these chosen ones are given is full and complete. Christ’s atonement did not merely make salvation possible but it accomplished salvation for all for whom it was meant and to whom it is given. This full salvation is eternal (Hebrews 9:12) and none who are saved shall perish but all of them are given everlasting life.

 


  1. Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 312 ff..