I’m writing this article out of a desire to clarify my position and intention in an article called “The Log of Hyper-Calvinism” in the March-April 2017 edition of The Outlook.
To start, it was never my purpose to address the issue of the extent of the atonement. As I affirmed then and do now, I wholeheartedly agree with the doctrines of grace, and specifically the doctrine of limited atonement, as summarized in the Canons of Dort. To quote: “For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father” (Second Head, Article 8). When Christ died on the cross, he didn’t just make it possible for men to be saved. He actually saved every elect person whom the Father chose before the foundation of the world (John 6:37).
My intent, rather, was to address the presentation of the gospel. Or to use a theological distinction, my aim was not the hidden will of God but the revealed. What has God revealed to us about his disposition toward sinners? Can we sincerely offer Jesus to the whole world? Can we make the claim that “Christ died for sinners,” that “Christ died for the world,” that “Christ’s death is sufficient for you,” and that “Christ offers himself to you”?
I believe we can. Again, the Canons are so helpful. “Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel” (Second Head, Article 5).
The Scriptures teach that God our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
I believe that God can desire something that he has not ordained. In other words, his revealed desire to save all men in no way conflicts with his hidden decree to save only the elect.
To requote Dr. Michael Horton in “Reformed Theology vs. Hyper-Calvinism,” “Here once again we are faced with a mystery—and the two guardrails that keep us from careening off the cliff of speculation. God loves the world and calls everyone in the world to Christ outwardly through the Gospel, and yet God loves the elect with a saving purpose and calls them by His Spirit inwardly through the same Gospel (John 6:63–64; 10:3–5, 11, 14–18, 25–30; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; 2 Tim. 1:9).”
The result of God’s saving disposition, revealed in his Word, should be an enthusiastic commitment to declare, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
In my previous article, I made the following statement: “Christ died for your sins; believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!” My intention was not to suggest that Jesus died head for head for every person, but rather that he offers himself to every person and promises to save anyone who exercises saving faith in him. I affirm wholeheartedly the doctrine of limited atonement as well as the free offer of the gospel to all.
God has hidden from our limited minds who the full number of the elect are; yet he has clearly revealed his heart in commanding us to call all sinners to repentance and faith. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:20–21).
May Reformed preaching and evangelism never lead a sinner to conclude (on account of our presentation) that the good news is not for him. Rather, may he always know that Jesus came to save sinners of every stripe, and salvation is for any and all who call upon the name of the Lord!
Rev. Michael J. Schout
is the pastor of Grace URC in Alto, MI. He welcomes your feedback at email@example.com.