In a recent blog I posted I summarized Oliver Crisp’s recent argument that there is significant room within some key reformed confessions for one to hold on to a doctrine of atonement that excludes limited atonement and is open to universal atonement. I.e. that Christ died no just for the sins of the elect, but for the sins of all humanity. Essentially the argument goes like this:
1-Atonement is sufficient for all of humanity.
2-Faith is a necessary condition to receive salvation.
3-God intends the work of Christ, i.e. atonement, to be effective for all those who have faith.
4-Faith is a divine gift.
5-God provides faith for the elect.
6-Thus only the elect, who have been given faith, receive salvation i.e. the effective work of Christ.
However another blogger made a great observation, he said that the argument logically makes sense, however it has one major fault, he said that I had ignored the fact that Jesus died for the sin of unbelief…
If you’re atoned for all your sins, that must include the sin of unbelief – which is the sin of rejection and hatred of God and everything that He stands for. If you’re atoned for everything except faith, then you still have pretty much everything left to be atoned for!
This blogger certainly brings up a good point! Essentially he is making an argument similar to one that John Owen (the Puritan) had made. Here is what Owen says…
Unbelief is it a sin or is it not? If it be not how can it be a cause of damnation? If it be, Christ died for it,or he did not. If he did not, then he died not for the sins of all men. If he did, why is this an obstacle to their salvation? Is there any new shift to be invented for this? Or must we be contented with the old, namely because they do not believe? That is, Christ did not die for their unbelief, or rather, did not by his death remove their unbelief, because they would not believe, or because they would not themselves remove their unbelief; or he died for their unbelief conditionally, that they were not unbelievers. These do not seem to me to be sober assertions. (Works, 144)
Or elsewhere, Owen says…
God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men or all the sins of some men or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved… If the second, this is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe. But this unbelief is it a sin, or is it not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent punishment for it or not. If so why mus that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins. Let them chose which part they will. (The Works of John Owen, 173-74)
Essentially Owen is arguing that unbelief is a sin – therefore it is cause for damnation. If Christ died for the unbelief of all of humanity then all of humanity would be saved, because he would have atoned for all the sin of humanity (unbelief included.) However, not all of humanity is saved, therefore Christ could not have died for everybody’s unbelief – therefore we need limited atonement to make sense of why we don’t claim universalism.
This is exactly what this thoughtful blogger pointed out!
However one might want to say that even if unbelief is dealt with at the cross, under universal atonement, faith is still required for the application of the atonement that has been accomplished. If this is the case, then Christ has surely died for even the reprobate’s sin – unbelief included – however if they do not have the faith necessary to have the benefits of his death applied to them then they suffer the just punishment for their sin.
Faith is a necessary condition for appropriating the saving benefits of Christ’s death.