The Arminian Heresy of Universal Atonement
Rev. Angus Stewart
Many today believe and teach the Arminian heresy of
universal atonement. The Synod of Dordt (1618-19), the most
international assembly of Reformed Protestants, declares that Christ
redeemed the elect "and those only" (II:8) and that those who teach that
He died for everybody speak "contemptuously of the death of Christ" and
"bring again out of hell the Pelagian error" (II:R:3). The
Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) states, "Neither are any
other redeemed by Christ ... but the elect only" (3:6). This article was
included in the Congregational Savoy Declaration (1658) and in
the Baptist Confession (1689).
A universal atonement means that Christ must have
died for Esau whom God hated (Rom. 9:13); Judas, "the son of perdition"
(John 17:12); and Antichrist, the "man of sin" (II Thess. 2:3); as well
as the whore, the false church (Rev. 17:1-2); those who commit the
unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:32); and those who never hear the Word (Ps.
147:19-20) or are already in Hell. Is this consistent with the infinite
power, wisdom and holiness of God?
A universal atonement means that Christ merely
makes salvation possible and thus it denies that His death
actually saves. The Bible, however, declares that Christ delivered
(Heb. 2:15), reconciled (Rom. 5:10), redeemed and
(Gal. 3:13), and justified His people "by his blood" (Rom. 5:9).
If Jesus paid the price for everybody head for head and some perish in
Hell, then His atonement does not save all—or even most of those—for
whom it was made. How can Christ be "satisfied" in His atonement (Isa.
53:10), if millions perish for whom He shed His blood? Then too Christ’s
death is not substitutionary, for if He took the punishment of
the reprobate, why are they judged? If some for whom Christ died go to
Hell, then God punishes their sins twice, once on Christ and once
on them. Is this consistent with the infinite justice and righteousness
of God? How can some whom Christ reconciled, and for whom there is no
condemnation (Rom. 8:34), dwell forever in Hell?
Listen to John Wesley, an advocate of universal,
What! Can the blood of Christ burn
in hell? … I answer, ... If the oracles of God are true, one
who was purchased by the blood of Christ may go thither. For
he that was sanctified by the blood of Christ was purchased
by the blood of Christ. But one who was sanctified by the
blood of Christ may nevertheless go to hell; may fall under
that fiery indignation which shall for ever devour the
adversaries (The Works of John Wesley [Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1996], vol. 10, p. 297).
The Scriptures teach that Christ died for His "people" (Matt. 1:21)
and His "friends" (John 15:13). He ransomed "his seed" (Isa. 53:10) and
not the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15); His "sons," "children" and
"brethren" (Heb. 2:10-14) and not "bastards" (Heb.12:8); His sheep (John
10:11) and not the goats (Matt. 25:33); His church (Eph. 5:25) and not
the "synagogue of Satan" (Rev. 3:9); and the "many" (Matt. 26:28) and
not everybody head for head.
Many make the fundamental exegetical error of taking
the word "world" (Greek: kosmos) to mean "everybody head for
head" in John 1:29, 3:16 and I John 2:2. Charles Spurgeon noted that
nowhere in the Bible does "world" have this meaning. I challenge anyone
to find one Biblical verse where "world" means "everybody head for
head," and then prove that it has this meaning in a text teaching the
extent of Christ’s atonement. Kosmos can mean the universe (Acts
17:24) or the Roman world (Col. 1:6) or the evil world system (John
12:31) or the reprobate (John 17:9) or the elect (John 4:42; 6:33; II
Cor. 5:19) etc. The context is vital in explaining the Word, according
to the great Reformation principle: Scripture interprets Scripture.
Just hours before the cross and with a view to His
atoning death, Christ says, "I pray not for the world, but for
them which thou hast given me" (John 17:9). If Jesus did not do a lesser
thing (pray for the reprobate world), how could He do a greater
thing (die for the reprobate world)? If Christ did not pray for
the ungodly world (one aspect of His priestly work), is it possible that
He died for the ungodly world (the other aspect of His priestly work)?
Moreover, Christ prays on the basis of His work of redemption.
Therefore if Christ did not pray for the reprobate world, it is because
He did not purchase salvation for them. Christ’s prayers and atonement
are not only particular—"for them which thou hast given me"—but also
exclusive, not "for the world."
"Having just received and read the articles which
you have written during January , I congratulate you on the very
able defence you made of the doctrines of Grace and Faith of God’s
elect. I had just been thanking the visiting preacher to our
fellowship last Lord’s Day on his dealing with Election and Particular
Atonement in which he held to the Reformed tenets and had mentioned to
him the encouraging contact we have with yourselves in Ballymena. It
is indeed the same errors that raise their ugly heads in our age as
have been dealt with by the faithful fathers of the true Church in
their day. Thank you for standing firm as an example to the little
flock who feel themselves so beleaguered in this evil present world.
[From] an unworthy wretch saved by grace alone through faith alone." -