The mistake of the first class of arguments (Jesus didn’t die to save all men because God didn’t elect all men to salvation) lies in trying to copy the properties of other doctrines and paste them over the atonement. It reduces the satisfaction of wrath to an elect-specific event, and in so doing places it alongside the other elect particular blessings which are not shared by all mankind in general, such as regeneration, or final perseverance. The argument from the Covenant of Redemption, the Negative Inference argument, or the Intercession-Expiation arguments are good examples of this. In trying to grapple with the final outcome of the atonement it’s easy to become convinced that the design of the atonement was no wider than the salvation of the elect, but this isn’t so, since the doctrines of election and atonement are not identical things. As Spring says,
The second class of arguments for strict limited atonement reason that because Jesus made an effectual payment to the Father, and only the elect were saved, then it must be that only the elect were paid for. Owen’s Trilemma, the argument from the purchase of faith, and the double payment argument are examples of this.“It is no part of the doctrine of Election, that Christ died exclusively for the Elect…Though there would have been no atonement but for God’s design to save the elect, and though there could have been no designs of mercy toward the elect without an atonement; yet the doctrine of atonement and election are two distinct things.”
The mistake lies in assuming the debt of sin works like a debt of money—once paid the guilty are liberated. The problem is either a modern conception of purchase, or an over reliance on the framework of it, to the exclusion of other analogies of salvation.
The first happens because our culture isn’t the same as the first century near east. We think of paying a debt as handing a credit card to the restaurant cashier, or inserting paper money into a vending machine. The whole process is casual, impersonal, transactional. In every case what the creditor is entitled to is the money itself, and if a generous person steps in to make a payment on our behalf then the matter is settled as soon as the money changes hands. But the Bible has something more along the lines of a wealthy patron redeeming his servant from the slave market as a model for salvation than it does an online bill payment. The transaction in that case is personal, equal parts settling a debt through sacrifice and acquiring a person.
The second way to fall into the payment trap is to allow it to become the principle analogy of salvation. When the language of purchase gets too much prominence it begins to distort the concept salvation by pushing out the other crucial analogies (like a criminal before the judge, or a lamb is brought before a priest). The debt of our sin is not a credit deficiency, but also a judicial infraction, what we sinners owe is not just the price of our sins, but our very selves to God. As Hodge says,
“Augustinians teach, it is urged, that the work of Christ is a satisfaction to divine justice... From this it is inferred that the satisfaction or righteousness of Christ, if the ground on which a sinner may be forgiven, is the ground on which he must be forgiven... If the atonement be limited in design it must be limited in its nature, and if limited in its nature it must be limited in its offer.
This objection again arises from confounding a pecuniary and a judicial satisfaction between which Augustinians are so careful to discriminate... There is no grace in accepting a pecuniary satisfaction. It cannot be refused. It ipso facto liberates. The moment the debt is paid the debtor is free; and that without any condition. Nothing of this is true in the case of judicial satisfaction. If a substitute be provided and accepted it is a matter of grace. His satisfaction does not ipso facto liberate. It may accrue to the benefit of those for whom it is made at once or at a remote period; completely or gradually; on conditions or unconditionally; or it may never benefit them at all unless the condition on which its application is suspended be performed... Those for whom it was specially rendered are not justified from eternity; they are not born in a justified state; they are by nature, or birth, the children of wrath even as others. To be the children of wrath is to be justly exposed to divine wrath. They remain in this state of exposure until they believe, and should they die (unless in infancy) before they believe they would inevitably perish notwithstanding the satisfaction made for their sins.”One of these two errors underlies each particular argument for strict limited atonement, and while it would be enough to point out that any argument driven by a faulty model is wrong, the following chapters will focus instead on the additional mistakes the particular argument makes.