Power in the Blood:
The Extent of the Sacrificial Atonement of Our Lord
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.
Pastor of All Saints Presbyterian Church
[This was written for the Debate between myself and Pat Donahue of the Church of Christ/Campbellite view on the Atonement.]
Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
Is it truly that there is power in the atoning work of Christ or did His death merely make it a potential for people to be saved? That is really the issue in the Calvinist vs Arminian debate on the extent of the atonement.
In Aberdeen, MS, the area that I grew up in, there is the Tombigbee river. There were two bridges in the area of the city that illustrate well the difference between these views. One bridge is a very narrow train trestle and the other is a very wide highway bridge. Due to the Tenn-Tom waterway, part of the wide bridge was removed so that the bridge stands but does not have a road connected to one side. The train bridge is narrow but goes all the way across, the highway bridge is wide but you can’t go all the way across on it. An examination of what Scripture says of the death of Christ will make clear that His death is a bridge all the way across!
Power for the People
Many Biblical texts tell us that Christ's death accomplished redemption for a definite group of people. Bible-believing Christians would never deny that some will be lost for eternity. We all must admit, then, that Christ did not prevent the wrath of God from abiding on those who do not trust in Him. Therefore, His death, though sufficient to save a million worlds from the wrath of God, was actually efficient only for those that will be saved. To put it directly, according to the Bible, whose sins did Christ bear?
• Mat 1:21 And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.
• Isa 53:5-12 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. . . He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?. . . . He would render Himself as a guilt offering...By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities . . . . He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.
• Joh 10:11 I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 10:14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
• Joh 11: 51 Now this he did not say on his own initiative; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
• Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word . . .
• 1Pe 2:24 . . . and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
• 2Co 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
• Heb 9:12 . . . and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
• Tit 2:14 . . . who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
These verses provide clear support for the view that the cross work of Christ accomplished redemption for those that will be saved. The English hymn writer, William Cowper said it well,
There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God Be saved, to sin no more.
The blood will accomplish its intended purpose - to ransom the church of God.
Power from the Past
The biblical case for a limited or definitive extent of the atonement is also made clear from a consideration of the shadows of the sacrificial system. The shadows cast form a cross on Calvary. A central concept in the Mosaic system of worship is the blood of the covenant. Exodus 24:8 speaks of Moses sprinkling blood on the people and saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words."
This image becomes central in the new covenant sacrament of the Supper. Matthew 26:28 says, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Christ’s death was not another shadow in a covenant administration, as was say, Passover. No, it was the ultimate reality which undergirds all the covenant administrations which were cut in blood. That is why the writer of Hebrews in his benediction could sum it all up in saying: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant....” Christ’s death was the reality behind all the other temporal shadows. His blood was the blood of the everlasting covenant.
As soon as one admits this, then it is immediately clear that the work of Christ is purposed for those in covenant with Him. It makes no sense to think of the Passover blood accomplishing redemption for Pharaoh’s firstborn - Or that the day of atonement providing forgiveness for the Ammonites. So too, when the reality of the sacrificial system came, the purpose was for a covenant people.
The Unbreakable Chain of God's Sovereign Grace
In Romans chapter 8, among many other passages, we see how the sacrifice of Christ was for a definite group of people, whom the Scriptures refer to as “elect.”
27...He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, ....38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Note that verse 32 makes the argument from the greater to the lesser - if God killed His Son for our justification, will He not freely give everything else we need to be conformed to Christ? Of course He will. John Murray says on this,
We may not extend the scope of the sacrifice of the Son beyond the scope of the all the other free gifts—every one on whose behalf the Father delivered up the Son becomes the beneficiary of all other gifts of grace. To put it briefly, those contemplated in the sacrifice of Christ are also the partakers of the other gifts of saving grace...
Was Christ’s death to purchase every individual without exception? Sometimes our problem is the confusion of the universal purpose of the call to “every creature” or “all nations” and the purpose of God. When we look at he end of the story in Revelation 5:9, we see a “heavenly view” of the purpose the atonement.
The NAS says, “Thou didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from [Greek ek] every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” It is clearer in the KJV, “thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” Even the Living Oracles by Alexander Campbell translate this [ek] as “out of every tribe...”
There is no avoiding the Christ purchased “out of” the whole of humanity - every person, without exception, a definite group. Another beautiful feature of this text is that this definite group is composed of myriads of people!
The Unbreakable Chain Defined
A brief consideration of the terms Paul uses will harden the definitive shape of the mortar which is clear in Romans 8. There can be no dispute about the meaning of “predestine.” Lexicographers basically agree:
Liddell-Scott 34110 proori,zw to determine beforehand, to predetermine, pre-ordain, Friberg 22774 proori,zw decide on beforehand, determine in advance; Louw-Nida 30.84 proori,zw to come to a decision beforehand - 'to decide beforehand, to determine ahead of time, to decide upon ahead of time.
Consider the usages of the proorizo - “I predestine.”
• Acts 4:28 "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.
• 1 Corinthians 2:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory,
• Ephesians 1:5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,
• Ephesians 1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
Whatever is involved in the foreknowing of an all-knowing being, in the Bible the Greek words (prognosis/proginosko) do not describe God’s foreknowing as His mere before-knowing of an individual’s destiny. For example, there’s nothing like, “God foreknew their unbelief (and therefore, they were not elected unto salvation).”
• The cross was "by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23)."
• Those "He foreknew" are "to become conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29).
• Israel is described as "His people whom He foreknew" (Rom 11:2).
• Scattered believers are chosen of God "according the foreknowledge of God (1Pe 1:2).
• Jesus Himself "was foreknown before the foundation of the world" (1Pe 1:20).
Morever, this is true in the use of these words in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. “Adam knew [ginosko] Eve his wife; and she conceived. . .” (Gen 4:1). Amos 3:2 says, “You [Israel] only have I chosen [ginosko] among all the families of the earth.” The marvel of this is that the all-knowing Holy One says to His people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer 31:3).
The term for “elect” or “chosen ones” is equally clear:
LOUW-NIDA 30.93 evklekto,j, 'to choose, choice,' 30.92 that which has been chosen - 'chosen.' LIDDELL-SCOTT 12346 evklekto,j (evkle,gw) picked out, select, Thuc., Plat., etc. II. oi` evklektoi,, the elect, N.T.
• Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
• 2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
• Titus 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness,
• 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light...
If we bring all this information together, we could do no better than the statements of the the Westminster Confession (3.6):
As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
Power and the Debt
What is going on in the atoning work of Christ? What is the nature of it? A ransom paid to Satan? A mere example self-sacrifice? A mere demonstration of the awfulness of sin? It is vital to see that the death of Christ was a penal satisfaction of the justice of God. As the simple song says: “He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay...”
Dr. Warfield of old Princeton Seminary writes a marvelous summary of the orthodox view in his article on the subject.
The Biblical doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ finds full recognition in no other construction than that of the established church-doctrine of satisfaction. According to it our Lord’s redeeming work is at its core a true and perfect sacrifice offer to God in fulfillment of the demands of His law; both the one and the other being offered in behalf of His people, and on being accepted by God, accruing to their benefit; so that by this satisfaction they are relieved at once from the curse of their guilt as breakers of the law, and from the burden of the law as a condition of life; and this by a work of such kind and performed in such a manner, as to carry home to the hearts of men a profound sense of the indefectible righteousness of God and to make to them a perfect revelation of His love; so that by this one and indivisible work, both God is reconciled to us, and we, under the quickening influence of the Spirit bought for us by it, are reconciled to God so making peace —external peace between an angry God and sinful men, and internal peace in the response of the human conscience to the restored smile of God. This doctrine, which has ben incorporated in more or less fullness of statement in the creedal declarations of all the great branches of the Church, Greek, Latin, Lutheran, and Reformed, and which has been expounded with more or less insight and power by the leading doctors of the church for the last eight hundred years...”
The Canon’s of Dort, Second Head, also addresses the issue clearly:
The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those: Who teach: That Christ by His satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that He merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as He might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions....For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, in no wise acknowledge the most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error.
It is clear that any serious consideration of the Scriptural teaching of the atonement leads one directly to the substitutionary nature of it. From that juncture it is logically and theologically impossible to avoid concluding that the death of Christ was designed to satisfy the justice of God for all those who will be save and only for those.
However, the more basic objection to Calvinism many have is really an anti-historical, anti-intellectual spirit, ungrateful for the wealth of doctrine poured out to current believers from the aged casks of the Church in history. We do not receive these “aged” doctrinal reflections uncritically without the appeal to Scripture directly. However, many shallow believers, under the guise of saying “just the Bible, please,” despise the doctrinal riches handed to us.
Good historic confessions, such as those of the Reformation, helpus avoid the maze of false teachings. They permit us to stand as dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. Many object—“No creed but Christ!” This attitude is childish: “No creed but Christ” is itself a kind of creed. The question is, which creed do you really believe? It is my suspicion that those who do not appreciate the historic creeds, confessions and catechisms have a lot more “creed” and a lot less Christ than they think. Remember too, the history of the Church illustrates many battles with heresy when all along the heretics insisted on using only the words of the Bible. One need not go to Arius, the local Kingdom Hall will do just as well. Doctrinal summaries of the Word are, therefore, unavoidable.
In my debate with a representative of the Church of Christ (Campbellite) on the extent of the atonment, this was evident. This fine representative would not, in course of almost three hours of discussion, define what happened in the atonement. He would only repeat the litany of the “all” and “world” verses.
I suppose he is following in the footsteps of the prime mover of the Church of Christ, Alexander Campbell. He disdained any ecclesiastical heritage, creed, confession, and historic position, as a guide or even subordinate standard in theology. He is a man on an island, a lone ranger-reader. He writes:
I have endeavored to read the scriptures as though no one had read them before me, and I am as much on my guard against reading them to-day through the medium of my own views yesterday, or a week ago, as I am against being influenced by any foreign name, authority, or system whatever.
What of the teachers God has given the church (Eph. 4:11)? What of the maturation of the church (Eph. 4:13-14)? Well, the result of this is to completely disrespect the doctrinal orthodoxy of the past, as though God abandoned the Church to error until He graced the world with Mr. Campbell.
It appears to me also that the combined effect of an anti-historical, anti-creedal spirit has led the most stringent party of the Church of Christ, the “non-instrumental” group, to hold to a fully Pelagian view of sin and free will, a Romanist view of the efficacy of baptism, an Anabaptist view of church membership, and a Donatist application of all of this!
This is a strange combination to be sure. To many these historical labels would be highly offensive “fightin’ words.” They should not be to Church of Christ people, since no historical considerations matter. I plead with friends in this group to see that they have not escaped the “doctrines of men” at all. On so many distinctive matters, they simply hold the heretical ones!
What About These Verses?
In preparation for the debate mentioned above, Pat Donahue of the Church of Christ writes, “The following are other verses which prove a ‘general’ atonement.” It is instructive to note how he summarizes what the texts say.
“I Tim 4:10 Jesus is the Saviour of those who do not believe; I John 2:2 Jesus died for Christians AND the "whole world"; I Corinthians 8:11 Jesus died for some who will "perish”; Hebrews 2:9 Jesus died for "every man"; I Timothy 2:6 Jesus died for "all"; Matthew 22:14 more are called than chosen; Galatians 4:4-5 Jesus died for them "under the law" (includes the non-elect); II Peter 2:1 Jesus died for "false teachers"; Luke 19:10 Jesus died for the "lost" which includes the non-elect; II Corinthians 5:14 Jesus died for the spiritually "dead" which includes the non-elect; Romans 5:18 Jesus died for all those who were under "condemnation"; II Peter 3:9 / I Timothy 2:4 God desires "all" men to be saved (even the non-elect).
A few considerations will help to refute Mr. Donahue’s interpretations. The term for world “kosmos” - means a great variety of things within the NT: universe, earth, human inhabitants, man in judgment, Jews, persons with certain people, etc. He writes, “I John 2:2 Jesus died for Christians AND the ‘whole world’.” Further, he says,
The word ‘world’ in Jn 3:16 is Strong's #2889 and is defined by Thayer - "the inhabitants of the world" Wigram-Green - "all humanity." Vine - "the human race, mankind." I know of no lexicon that defines the word as "the elect," do you? I don't know of a verse that uses the word to refer to only the elect.
Well, of course the word kosmos (world) is not the semantic equivalent of eklektos (elect). Certainly in most of the disputed texts the term world is meant not to exclude, selectively, but include, expansively.
Consider 1 John 2:2, an important passage, touted to refute the Calvinistic position. 1 John 2:2, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” On the surface, this verse is a good objection to definite or limited atonement. The issue hangs on the meaning of "propitiation" and the sins of "whole world" in distinction to "ours." Mr. Donahue says, “us” are Christians, and the world is every non-elect person. In no way can this be concluded from John’s use of “whole world” (holos kosmos). The other usage of these terms in John’s writing appear in 1 John 5:19: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Certainly every individual person is not in view here, since the first part specifies “we are of God”! The first part of the verse refutes Mr. Donahue’s usage.
But even more if “every person” has a propitiation in Christ, this certainly proves too much. Propitiation (Greek, hilasmos) is a successful and effective atonement. John says later, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (4:10). God is just in forgiving sin only because of Christ's propitiation which satisfied His righteousness for those justified by faith (Rom 3:25-26). The Greek OT term is the same for the very mercy-seat of the ark of the covenant is called a propitiation (Heb 9:5). It is those who have an "Advocate with the Father," "Jesus Christ the righteous," that have a "propitiation" "for sins" (vv. 1-2). Just as John says that Jesus is a Savior for people outside of ethnic Israel, "the world" (even Samaritans in John 4:42), Jesus is or will be a propitiation for all in the "whole world." In other us/world contrasts (a) in the prophecy of Caiaphas, "Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (Joh 11:51-52). (b) Further, John records another us/world parallel when Jesus says, "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd" (Joh 10:16).
What about the term “all.” The word is not used to mean all distributively (every person). In fact, Church of Christ folks don’t believe that “All [every person] have sinned.” They believe that children before the “age of accountability” have not sinned. Many examples could be cited along these lines:
• “All” Judea and the region was baptized by John, Mt. 3:5, Lk 3:3.
• Justification brings life for “all” men, Rom 5:18.
• Believers “know all things” 1 Jn 2:20
• “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household,” Philippians 4:22.
This sketch deals with the principle issues, but for a more detailed discussion, I encourage the reader also to view my detailed discussion on many “objectional texts” in, “My God Ordains” www.wordmp3.com/gs/ordains.htm.
In the end, Boettner, et al, is exactly right in citing the poignant words of Dr. Warfield: “The things we have to choose between are an atonement of high value, or an atonement of wide extension. The two cannot go together.”
The practical application is brought home by the great Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon, who said:
If Christ has died for you, you can never be lost. God will not punish twice for one thing. If God punished Christ for your sins He will not punish you. `Payment God’s justice cannot twice demand; first, at the bleeding Saviour’s hand, and then again at mine.’ How can God be just if he punished Christ, the substitute, and then man himself afterwards?