They [many divines] believe in an atonement made for every body; but then, their atonement is just this. They believe that Judas was atoned for just as much as Peter; they believe that the damned in hell were as much an object of Jesus Christ's satisfaction as the saved in heaven. . . . Now, such an atonement I despise—I reject it. I may be called Antinomian or Calvinist for preaching a limited atonement; but I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than an universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be joined with it. . . . Oh! glorious doctrine! I would wish to die preaching it! What better testimony can we bear to the love and faithfulness of God than the testimony of a substitution eminently satisfactory for all them that believe on Christ?
These words were preached by the 19th century Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Clearly recognizing the importance of properly answering the controversial question “For whom did Christ die?,” Spurgeon defended the doctrinal position normally called “limited atonement.” This view understands Christ’s redeeming death to be for his chosen people alone. Jesus’ atoning work was not universally made for every individual; it was made specifically for his own people. He strenuously argued against the opposite position, usually labeled “unlimited atonement.” Those holding this view maintain that Christ died for all of humanity. His atoning work makes salvation possible for every person, but it only comes to those who believe in him. Was Spurgeon correct in his denunciation of unlimited atonement?
Christians must turn to Scripture to discern the extent of Christ’s death. And when one takes all biblical teaching into account, he or she should recognize that Spurgeon was indeed right. Limited atonement is a precious truth revealed in the Word of God. By examining the atonement’s purpose, nature, and result, believers will see that the Bible is not silent on the atonement’s extent. Christ died for his people. This truth needs to be contrasted with the belief that Christ died for all people equally. Additionally, objections must be considered. Nevertheless, in this weekly series of posts we will see that the sufficiency and efficacy of Christ’s death prove the doctrine of limited atonement.
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Death of Christ,” in vol. 4 of The New Park Street Pulpit.