A Critical Review of “He Died for Me: Limited Atonement & the Universal Gospel” (part 5 of 7)

by | Aug 9, 2017 | Book Reviews, Reformed Theology

part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Johnson, Jeffrey. He Died for Me: Limited Atonement & the Universal Gospel. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2017.  201 pp.

Critical Evaluation (Continued)

The well-meant offer of the gospel

Johnson spends eleven pages on what he calls The Theological Argument for Universal Sufficiency (133-143). While statements like, “And if we are commissioned to call all to repentance and faith in the gospel, then there must have been a sufficient provision made for all, or otherwise God is commanding reprobates to place their faith in an empty promise” (141) are not troubling if understood in the sense that Owen does (part 4), it becomes a problem when we realize that for Johnson, sufficient provision demands that Christ died for all.  He asks, “…how can we truthfully call all people to [the] gospel of Christ if Christ did not die for all people?” (135).

First of all, I would argue that the idea that coextensive provision is necessary for a genuine, sincere offer is false.  Roger Nicole illustrates this point: “For instance, advertisers who offer some objects on the pages of a newspaper do not feel that honesty in any way demands of them to have a stock coextensive with the circulation figures of the newspaper.  Really, the only requisite for a sincere invitation is this—that if the conditions be fulfilled, that which is offered will actually be granted.”[1] In gospel proclamation we do not tell all men Christ died for them, but we urge all men to come to Christ with the sure and certain promise that every sinner who comes to Him in faith will find a perfect, sufficient and effectual Savior who will never cast him out.

Perhaps a more important point is that I do not believe Johnson’s solution actually solves his own problemIf we cannot truthfully call all people to the gospel of Christ if Christ did not die for all people, then how can we truthfully call all people to the gospel of Christ if Christ only died for all people in an organic manner, but His death is only ever made effectual in those who were already joined to him in federal union at the time of His death?

Johnson’s perceived need to tell all men that Christ died for them is not shared by many of his fellow Moderate Calvinists.  In his notes on Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Thomas Boston is careful to explain that when Fisher says “Christ is dead for you” he does not mean “Christ died for you.”  “Christ is dead for you” means that Christ is available to you, that if you turn to Him in faith you will most assuredly find a sufficient and effectual Savior.[2] He also makes this explicit statement, “Our Lord Jesus Christ died not for, nor took upon him the sins of, all and every individual man, but he died for, and took upon him the sins of, all the elect, (John 10:15, 15:13, Acts 20:28, Eph 5:25, Titus 2:14), and no other doctrine is here taught by our author touching the extent of the death of Christ.”[3]

Andrew Fuller urged preachers to take no regard to the secret things of God, such as particular redemption, when freely offering the gospel:

There is no contradiction between this peculiarity of design in the death of Christ, and a universal obligation on those who hear the gospel to believe in him, or a universal invitation being addressed to them. If God, through the death of his Son, have promised salvation to all who comply with the gospel; and if there be no natural impossibility as to a compliance, nor any obstruction but that which arises from aversion of heart; exhortations and invitations to believe and be saved are consistent; and our duty, as preachers of the gospel, is to administer them, without any more regard to particular redemption than to election; both being secret things, which belong to the Lord our God, and which, however they be a rule to him, are none to us. If that which sinners are called upon to believe respected the particular design of Christ to save them, it would then be inconsistent; but they are neither exhorted nor invited to believe any thing but what is revealed, and what will prove true, whether they believe it or not. He that believeth in Jesus Christ must believe in him as he is revealed in the gospel, and that is as the Saviour of sinners. It is only as a sinner, exposed to the righteous displeasure of God, that he must approach him.[4]

When Johnson asks, “[I]f Christ’s death is not sufficient for the salvation of all people, then on what basis does God promise to forgive all people?” (136), he is making a mistake.  God nowhere promises to forgive all people!  God promises to forgive all who come to Christ and trust in Him alone for their eternal salvation.  Even if we take our cue from John 3:16, this is plain to see.  For God loved the mass of wicked fallen sinners so much that He sent His only begotten Son, so that every single one of those wicked sinners who trusts in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.  What makes this a genuine, bona fide offer that does not “push the dishonesty onto God” (137), is not that Christ died for all men in some manner that is only effectual for some of them, but that it is a promise that has never and shall never fail!  Every sinner who comes to Christ will be saved, and we have no need to delve into the secret will of God to make that declaration, or to call men to Christ in honesty and sincerity.

Part 6

 

[1] Roger Nicole, “The Case for Definite Atonement,” Evangelical Theological Society Bulletin (Fall 1967), 207. Cited in Joel Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An introduction to Calvinism (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008), 96.

[2] Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2009), 153.

[3] Ibid., 122.

[4] Andrew Fuller, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, in The Works of Andrew Fuller (East Peoria, IL: Versa Press, 1841; reprint, Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 171.

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