My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
The “whole world” is the key here. Some Calvinists, namely 5-Point Calvinists, who wish to maintain the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement, are left trying to explain that it does not mean the whole entire world, as in everybody, but merely, some of all types in the world. This is difficult of itself, and which is made even more difficult when you consider other verses that use similar expressions. For instance, consider Romans 3:19-20, which states: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” So would a 5-Point Calvinist give a similar explanation here as well, as in, some of all types, but not everyone altogether? Otherwise if not, then why the inconsistency?
Jerry Vines comments: “If you are a lost person, however, not a word of this applies to your sin. If you are lost, every time you sin you are piling up wrath against the judgment day of God. You have no advocate; you have no propitiation. But Jesus said that he died for the sins of the whole world and he is the propitiation for the whole world. He died for you and if you will come to Jesus, if you will come with that load of your sin, he will wash you as white as snow.” (Exploring 1-2-3 John, p.46, emphasis mine)
In other words, no unbeliever has had the wrath of God removed. (John 3:18) Instead, unbelievers have an atonement available to them, in which they must look upon Christ, as analogous to John 3:14 / Numbers 21:6-9, in order to receive the benefits of the atonement.
If God is appeased by the sacrifice of Christ, and if Christ satisfied the Law requirements, then there is nothing left for Christ to do: It is finished. All that would be left is for people to look upon Him and live, because His part with God is finished and fully accepted.
Consider the Old Testament example of the serpent on a standard at Numbers 21:6-9. Jesus used this event as an illustration of Calvary at John 3:14. There, the atonement was made “for” all who needed physical healing, which was accessed by looking upon it. So, too, the provision for spiritual healing, according to the Gospel of John, is accessed upon looking upon Christ in faith, and that’s the basis for the analogy.
Calvinist, James White, comments: “Christ’s substitutionary death in behalf of His people is a real and finished work: It is not dependent upon the human act of faith for failure or success.” (Debating Calvinism, p.191, emphasis mine)
Our faith does not trigger God’s acceptance of Christ’s work at Calvary. That’s instead a matter between God and Christ. Faith in Christ is what gets Christ’s God-approved provision applied to our account. If not for trusting in Christ, we would remain indefinitely under condemnation (John 3:18), and the provision expire as unclaimed.
Dave Hunt commented that if Christ’s death automatically saved Calvinism’s elect, then the elect were “never lost to begin with,” and what is there left for faith to accomplish that hasn’t already been netted by the provision?
The provision has been made. The price has been paid. All that is left is to receive by faith, what God has already provided. However, if we “neglect” Christ’s offering (Hebrews 2:3), then we will be held even more accountable to the wrath of God. (Acts 17:30)
However, 5-Point Calvinists reject that Jesus has died “for” the whole world, if by the “whole world,” everyone is intended, since Calvinists infer that Jesus died only “for” the world of those who comprise the alleged, eternal flock of the Father:
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “Perhaps John meant that Christ was the propitiation for all in the world who believe, regardless of nationality or rank.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.186, emphasis mine)
John Calvin comments: “For John’s purpose was none other than to make this benefit common to the whole church. By the word whole, then, he does not mean to include the reprobate, but he means those who would believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world.” (1, 2, 3 John: Calvin/Henry, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.30, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “Wherever the faithful are dispersed throughout the world, John extends to them the expiation wrought by Christ’s death.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.148, emphasis mine)
John Calvin writes: “Georgius thinks he argues very acutely when he says: Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world; and hence those who wish to exclude the reprobate from participation in Christ must place them outside the world. For this, the common solution does not avail, that Christ suffered sufficiently for all, but efficaciously only for the elect. By this great absurdity, this monk has sought applause in his own fraternity, but it has no weight with me. Wherever the faithful are dispersed throughout the world, John extends to them the expiation wrought by Christ’s death. But this does not alter the fact that the reprobate are mixed up with the elect in the world. It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world. But the solution lies close at hand, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but should have eternal life (Jn 3.15).” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.148-149, emphasis mine)
Calvin and Lutzer employ an Of the Elect defense, such that Jesus is the propitiation for “all in the the world who believe,” the “whole church” of the “faithful,” that is, all those of the elect. One verse that is offered in defense is John 11:51-52, which states: “Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” The part about “in order” speaks of purpose, and the purpose of the atonement is to redeem the Church, that is, to bestow eternal life upon believers, just as the purpose for the bronze serpent at Numbers 21:6-9 was to provide healing to those who looked upon it. God’s Will is that everyone (i.e. “those scattered abroad”) be in the church, which is of course why He commands all to repent, and thus the atonement is universal toward all those in whom He commands to repent, in order that those who do repent, may receive the benefits of the atonement.
You cannot offer what you don’t have. In order to be the Savior of the world, Jesus had to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus literally took away the sin of the whole world. That’s what He was sent to do, and that’s what He accomplished. The power of sin and spiritual death were broken. All sin was nailed to the cross at Calvary. No person’s sin was left out. That includes every sin ever committed, or will ever be committed, past, present and future. Jesus died for all, and all may receive the bona fide offer of Christ’s free gift of grace, if they will only meet the Father’s decreed condition of eternal life according to John 3:16. This cannot be true if Jesus only died for a few. You cannot legitimately offer a substitutionary payment, if you haven’t already paid it. The offer of this grace expires upon death, and yes, it can be left unclaimed. (Hebrews 2:3) Of course, this draws the Calvinistic charge that by such reasoning, there exists the possibility that Jesus could have died on the cross to secure the salvation of all, and then none receive it, and then the virtue of Calvary gone completely to waste. However, this is clearly nonsense when you consider that by the time of the Cross, you already have the faithful of Israel waiting in Abraham’s Bosom. (Luke 16:19-31)
John Calvin continues: “The evangelist John sets forth the office of Christ as nothing else than by His death to gather the children of God into one (Jn 11:52). Hence, we conclude that, though reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they may be gathered into the society of life. However, while I say it is offered to all, I do not mean that this embassy, by which on Paul’s testimony (II Cor 5:18) God reconciles the world to Himself, reaches to all, but that it is not sealed indiscriminately on the hearts of all to whom it comes so as to be effectual.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.149, emphasis mine)
John Calvin writes: “That Christ, the redeemer of the whole world, commands the Gospel to be preached promiscuously to all does not seem congruent with special Election. ... But the solution of the difficulty lies in seeing how the doctrine of the Gospel offers salvation to all. That it is salvific for all I do not deny. But the question is whether the Lord in His counsel here destines salvation equally for all.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.102, 103, emphasis mine)
Calvin explains: “Therefore Christ intends that the benefit of his death should extend to everyone; so people who exclude anyone from that hope of salvation are doing Christ a disservice.” (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.40, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “To be sure, Christ’s propitiation on the cross is unlimited in its sufficiency or value. In this sense Christ makes an atonement for the whole world. But the efficacy of this atonement does not apply to the whole world, nor does its ultimate design.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.177, emphasis mine)
This is the well-known expression that Calvinists use: “Sufficient for all; efficient only for the elect.”
The invocation of race in this illustration is intended to reveal the inherent nature of racism in Calvinism. The firm, in this illustration, is readily seen to be racist, though Calvinists are unwilling to attribute the same level of racism to their theology.
In the youtube clip, Calvinist James White is debating with Catholic theologian, Robert Sungenis. Obviously there are things upon which we all agree, such as the Deity of Christ and the bodily resurrection, and we wouldn’t want to toss those theologies out, simply because they are held by Catholics as well. So we wouldn’t want to throw out the doctrine of an Unlimited Atonement, simply because it is also held by Catholics. What perplexes me is the fact that James White cites Revelation 5:9 in defense of his logic, which doesn’t seem to add up. Revelation 5:9 states: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’” I suppose that a Calvinist would infer that the “men” purchased are the elect men, and the elect men are drawn from the base pool of the whole world, that is, people from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” It would seem, then, that this is simply a euphemism for the whole world. Certainly, the Calvinists do believe that the Calvinistically elect are indeed drawn from the base pool of the whole world. Well, at 1st John 2:1-2, it is precisely this world that has a propitiation. By James White’s reasoning, though, this would necessarily entail Universalism, because everyone who HAS a propitiation, must therefore BE propitiated. However, this is a forced conclusion, because if you consider the analogy of Numbers 21:6-9, should we infer that every snake victim was necessarily propitiated, simply by virtue of the existence of the serpent on the standard? Of course, that is verifiably false, since God stated that the only ones who receive the benefits of the propitiation are those who actually look upon the standard. Similarly, then, everyone in the world, that is, people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, HAVE a propitiation, but are not necessarily propitiated unless or until they actually look upon Christ in faith, and only then receive the benefits of the propitiation, which includes eternal life. This is fairly straight-forward, and it shows that both Revelation 5:9 and 1st John 2:1-2 are in agreement that the base pool of the whole world is what is in focus.