The Nature of the Atonement: Limited or General?


There are still more terms which Scripture uses in connection with the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ which very plainly include the idea of satisfaction. 

Scripture speaks of the atoning work of Christ as an act of buying, purchasing, paying a price, and as an act of redeeming, even as a slave is purchased and becomes the property of the purchaser, or as a slave’s liberty is purchased through the payment of a price. The Greek terms (agovazein and exagorazein) are related to the Greek term for “market” (agora), and these terms are often used in relation to commercial life even in the New Testament. There are-several passages where these terms occur with regard to the work of redemption. II Peter 2:1 speaks of those who “deny the Lord that bought them,” or, as is also possible, “deny that the Lord bought them.” In Revelation 5:9 we read of the “new song” of the four beasts and the four and twenty elders at the occasion when the Lamb standing as it had been slain took the book with its seven seals out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne: “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” The Lamb, therefore, has redeemed us, purchased us, to God; and the purchase price was His blood. We may note here, by the way, that this text also makes a distinction which very definitely points to the fact that this redemption by the blood of the Lamb, or atonement, was limited, particular: for He has redeemed us out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. I Corinthians 6:20 employs the same language: “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” And in I Corinthians 7:23 that same fact of purchase, redemption, is mentioned: “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” The second and related term (Greek: exagorazein) is also rendered by “redeem” in our King James Version. This term means essentially the same as the former term, except that it views us as slaves, purchased out of bondage and unto liberty. This term, therefore, also includes the idea of the payment of a price, and therefore the idea of satisfaction. Thus it is used in Galatians 3:13 and Galatians 4:4, 5. In the former passage we read: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” And in the latter passage the Word of God tells us: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” The following remarks from the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” Vol. I, page 126, are pertinent: “In Paul, of course, the divine Purchaser does not pay only in appearance as in sacral redemption, but in the most bitter reality, so that the parallel breaks down at the decisive point and there is thus a great difference. In respect of the seriousness of the purchase, Christ is to be compared to the one who actually pays . . . . . . And everything depends on this. In this liberation from the curse of the Law, the essential point is that it confers both and actual and also a legally established freedom ensuring against any renewal of slavery. The claim of the Law is satisfied.” 

Finally, I call your attention to the terms reconcile andreconciliation, terms which occur rather often in Scripture in connection with the atoning and redeeming work of Christ. Significant in this connection is the well-known passage of II Corinthians 5:18-21: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” This same idea of reconciliation occurs elsewhere, as in Romans 5:10 andColossians 1:19-21. The idea of reconciliation as set forth in II Corinthians 5 may be briefly explained in the following remarks: 1) It is evident that the apostle refers here to a very specific historical event. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself: that was nineteen hundred years ago, at the cross. There our reconciliation was accomplished. This is also confirmed by verse 21. 2) Reconciliation is a covenant idea. It presupposes a relation of friendship and love between those that are to be reconciled. Even among men one cannot speak of the reconciliation of complete strangers; there must be a previously existing relationship in order to speak of reconciliation. And in divine reconciliation that previously existent relationship is that of God’s eternal covenant. 3) Reconciliation implies that this relationship has been violated, so that it cannot function. There is something in the way. Estrangement and alienation have been caused. The cause of that alienation is our sin and guilt. 4) Reconciliation requires that the cause of that alienation is removed, so that the alienation itself is removed, and so that the bond of friendship and love can properly function. And in divine reconciliation this can only be accomplished by the actual removal of the cause of estrangement, namely, sin and guilt. In other words, God’s justice with respect to sin must be satisfied and the state of His people must be changed from one of guilt to one of righteousness. This change God Himself accomplishes through the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. How? “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 

With this I conclude the discussion of the first essential element in the nature of the atonement. Let us remember that our main interest in this discussion is this question: is the nature of the atonement of Christ such that it is limited or not? Dr. Daane maintains that it is unlimited, that is, general, that is, for all men. He now faces the question, in the light of Scripture and the Reformed confessions: how, if the nature of the atonement is actual satisfaction of divine justice with respect to sin,—how can the atonement be general, unless salvation itself is also general, so that all men are saved? To escape this consequence,—the consequence which he has so vehemently denied,—it seems to me that he must deny that the nature of the atonement is that of satisfaction. But to do the latter is to deny the atonement itself. And this is certainly neither Reformed nor Scriptural.