The Aim of the Atonement


What was the aim (or goal) of the atonement? In other words, what exactly did Christ intend to accomplish by offering up Himself as a sacrifice for sin? Two answers are commonly put forth in modern Evangelicalism: 1) to make all men savable, and 2) to actually save a definite people.


There is a sense in which Christ’s death is for every man – “for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). Certainly God would pour no blessing on a sin-cursed world except that He had a foreknown kindness through Jesus Christ to redeem it; and that the Earth is the dwelling place of the people He will redeem. Indeed, because of Christ, the Earth has been preserved until the final day of judgement (consider the Noahic Covenant and 2 Pet 3:7).

The question we are asking here is, whose sins have been expiated by the death of Christ? That is, whose sins have been actually taken away? On whose behalf has Jesus propitiated the just anger and judgement of God? Who are the ones who have been reconciled to God on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice of atonement?

  • (Col 1:20-22) And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight
  • (Rom 5:8-11)being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

These Scripture passages refer to mankind as being ‘alienated’, ‘enemies’, and ‘wicked’ workers. But now, those who have ‘received the atonement’ are ‘justified’, ‘saved’, ‘reconciled’, at ‘peace’, ‘holy’, ‘unblameable’, and ‘unreproveable’. The reconciliation which Christ wrought makes men at peace with God. Those who have not received it stand apart from God and are under His curse. As not all men are justified by the atonement of Christ, it is logical to conclude that Christ’s death reconciles a definite number of people to God. The only question left to ask is, was this Christ’s aim in the atonement or has he been foiled? In other words, did Christ achieve what He set about to achieve, or has He lost out on a great number of those whom he has atoned and redeemed.

Says John Murray,

Did Christ come to make the salvation of all men possible, to remove the obstacles that stood in the way of salvation, and …to make provision for salvation? Or did he come to save his people? Did he come to put all men in a savable state? Or did he come to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life? Did he come to make men redeemable? Or did he come effectually and infallibly to redeem? The doctrine of the atonement must be revised if, as atonement, it applies to those who finally perish…

Can the Gospel Be Preached If Christ Death’s Atones a Definite People?

Says John Murray,

It is frequently objected that this doctrine is inconsistent with the full and free offer of Christ in the gospel. This is grave misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The truth really is that it is only on the basis of such a doctrine that we can have a free and full offer of Christ to lost men. What is offered to men in the gospel? It is not the possibility of salvation, not simply the opportunity of salvation. What is offered is salvation. To be more specific, it is Christ himself in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work who is offered. And he is offered as the one who made expiation for sin and wrought redemption.


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