“Christ's atoning work cannot be extended to all people without also extending the new covenant benefits and privileges to them, which minimally includes regeneration, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Spirit, and so on. General atonement views must either redefine the nature of the new covenant or argue that Christ dies as the covenantal head of another covenant, whatever that is.”
In less succinct language, the argument is that the saving work of Christ does more than just pay for the sins of men, it also purchases everything necessary for their salvation. This includes regeneration, sanctification, adoption, indwelling of the Spirit, faith—everything necessary is purchased by Christ on the cross as an exclusive gift for His covenant people. In the words of Romans 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”Kingdom Through Covenant (p680)
In its barest form the argument looks like this:
P1: Christ’s atonement purchases all things necessary for salvation.
P2: Only the elect receive the gifts necessary for salvation.
C: Therefore, not all men were atoned for.
Although this argument looks formidable, there are two big problems with it.
The first is that, like Owens Trilemma, it over proves the point. If all things are purchased by Christ then He must necessarily purchase the hearing of the gospel and everything related to it, including the ordinary-every-day graces of being able to waking up in the morning, listen, understand, and think clearly. But for strict limited atonement to be true it cannot be the case that the non-elect receive any of these gifts of salvation which belong to the elect alone, and that’s a problem because the non-elect clearly do receive them. They receive the benefit of hearing the gospel (John 6:32-36, Matt. 22:4-5). They receive the common graces of God (Matt 5:45-46), the facilities and blessings needed to understand the plain message of salvation. Asaph complains in Ps 73 that the wicked had so many earthly blessings that he positively envied them (v2-14). Judas was one of the twelve closest to Jesus and was given the power to drive out demons as he proclaimed the gospel, yet for all of His time near Jesus was still lost (John 17:12). Therefore if the first premise is true (Christ purchases everything needed for salvation from the cross) then the second premise (only the elect receive gifts necessary for salvation) must be false.
The second problem is that this syllogism leads to irrationality. If true, it would mean that Jesus purchased the saving disposition of the Father to send Himself to Earth, from the Father at His death, in order that He may give it to the Father in eternity past. Christ purchases the desire to create the universe from the Father at His death, in order to give it back to the Father before the universe began, to enable Him to create for His glory. Christ purchases predestination at His death from the Father, then gives it back to the Father. The Father’s nature, actions, and freedoms are constrained by the work of the cross; He cannot dispense a blessing of any kind until the transaction has been made in time. Similar to how Chuck Norris was born into a log cabin that he himself made.
To accept this model means the destruction of the truth that there was a time before Jesus was a man, but never a time before He was God. Instead Jesus, eternally man and God, is always being crucified in eternity past so as to enable the Father to act in accordance with His desires, for without Him He isn’t free. This is, incidentally, is substantially similar to the Roman Catholic argument for their sacrament of mass.
So the first premise falls by its own weight.
So the first premise falls by its own weight.
It’s at this point that the advocate for strict limited atonement may try to salvage the argument by asserting that Christ purchases faith exclusively for the elect, while purchasing a myriad of common graces for all men. Something like this:
P1: Christ’s death purchases the gift of faith necessary for salvation.P2: Only the elect receive the gift of faith necessary for salvation.C: Therefore, not all men were atoned for.
But aside from the fact that conceding Christ purchasing gifts for all men is hardly a compelling argument for strict limited atonement, this new form suffers from the same problem that the original one does, plus the additional effect of making it more obvious that the scheme needlessly reduces everything to a crass commercial transaction. If Christ really purchased faith for men from the cross then faith is no longer an open hand offered toward God but a singular object given by God. It’s no longer an organic byproduct of a man’s affections, or an inclination to trust that comes from within the man, but a concrete item bought at the divine marketplace. It means that the Scriptures which speak of faithfulness being rewarded on the last day are senseless (Heb 10:35, Luke 19:17), along with those that some men having a greater amount of it than others (1 Cor 12:9), and those where unbelievers are urged to believe and live (Acts 16:31, Rom 10:9, Mark 16:16). This must be so, because there’s no place for those things in the case where faith isn’t something earned or exercised within a person, but is instead a good acquired on their behalf. As Chambers said,
Talk of 'purchase' could well be seen as having a distorting effect on the biblical idea of faith, by reifying it, making it a thing or object or commodity, instead of a relational response. The phrase 'purchase of faith' is a category confusion, for trust, like love, can only be given by the subject, not bought, and arises in the subject. While, of course, it is bought for us, and not from us, even that suggests a passivity that is not a feature of the New Testament's portrayal. While the trusting attitude itself can be conceptualized as passive and receptive in relation to the reception of righteousness, we are not passive but active in that trusting, we are those who believe.Making a final stand to preserve the argument, the strict limited atonement advocate might agree there’s no mention of Christ purchasing faith in the Bible and modify their position to Jesus purchasing the right to give men faith. “God cannot give the gift of faith apart from the priestly work of Christ, and because of the death of Christ God gives men faith directly”, they might say. But given that the demons believe (James 2:19), even though they received no atonement (Heb 2:16), this too must be discarded as unworkable. Jesus doesn’t need to buy the right to give faith—God is already the Sovereign King of the universe. What Jesus needs to do is provide a way consistent with God’s justice to forgive sinners. As Baxter says,
“Never did Christ desire at his Fathers hands, that all whom he satisfied for, should be infallibly and irresistibly brought to believe; nor did God ever grant or promise any such thing. Jesus Christ as a Ransom died for all, and as Rector per Leges, or Legislator. He hath conveyed the Fruits of his death to all; that is, those Fruits which it appertained to him as Legislator to convey, which is right to what his New Law or Covenant doth promise. But those Mercies which he gives as Domimus Absolutus, arbitrarily besides or above his engagement, he neither gives nor ever intended to give to all that he died for; no nor to all his Elect doth he give all those fruits of his death, nor for ought I know to any in the same degree; for these are but remotely the Fruits of Christ’s death, and not constant nor inseparable Fruits. Peruse the foresaid Table of the Fruits of Christ’s death, and it will shew you which the mercies be that Christ gives by Law, and which arbitrarily, as besides his engagement.”So every variation of the arguments for purchase is ultimately proven to be unworkable.