A more Limited view (pt 2)

Limited Atonement: A More Limited View (pt 2)

As defended by Dr. Tom Nettles 

Though Dr. Nettle’s argues for a more limited view of the atonement I really do appreciate the honesty and the humility he displays throughout his book.  On page 305 in his classic work By His Grace and For His Glory Nettles writes, “One must understand that those who maintain the above view (the sufficient for all, efficient for the elect position) are certainly in the historic stream of Calvinists who affirm limited atonement.  This is refreshing to read because some who hold to a more ‘John Owen interpretation of the atonement’ think that those maintaining a ‘modified view’ of Limited Atonement are not “true Calvinists.”   This series of essays are intramural discussions between likeminded Reformed brethren.  I hope to display this attitude as I continue posting these articles.

In his third major section Nettles answers the following question: What biblical truths must be present in a doctrine of the atonement?  First, in its nature, all sin is the same (James 2:8-11).  All violations are deserving of eternal punishment in that they are against an eternal God.  Second, one must handle the degrees of heinousness of sin in relation to the atonement(1 Cor 6:9-10, Eph 5:3-6, Col 3:5-6, Gal 5:19-21, Heb 10:28-29, Rev 21:8).  “Thus, one should readily see that though all sin deserves eternal punishment, some are worthy of more intense punishment or a greater display of wrath.”  The third and final feature in a doctrine of atonement “highlights the truth that God’s justice is exact” (Rom 3:25-26).  It’s my understanding that a “strict 5 point Calvinist” believes that if the atonement of Christ were in fact ‘sufficient for all’ that this would undermine the precious nature of God’s wrath and the exactness that His strict justice demands.  I’ve heard some people argue that this would in effect be “wasted blood” if Christ paid the penalty for those whom God ultimately did not elect, etc, etc.  In Nettles own vocabulary, “If we affirm the meritorious nature of the substitution of Christ, it must come to the sinner for whom Christ has died.”

I conclude this essay with the following 4 points (as found in Nettle’s book, p. 320).

1. The creature’s sin must be punished eternally and in differing degrees of intensity.


2. Forgiveness of sin means that some other way has been found to inflict an eternal punishment of the necessary intensity.


3. A substitute must meet those qualifications: that is, by his nature give eternal value to the sufferings and in his person be able to absorb the just intensity of wrath.


4. The just nature of God does not permit him to inflict more wrath on the substitute than actually becomes effectual for forgiveness of the criminal.  Nor does the love of God for the Son permit such an overkill.


“With these four elements in place, it is proper to speak of a quantitative, as well as a qualitative, element in the atonement.”  In short, Nettles is arguing for a definite, quantitative atonement.  In this view, the nature of the atonement settles the issue of the extent of the atonement.  That atonement was thus sufficient and efficient only for God’s elect.


6 responses to this post.

  1. […] Kolstad (https://expositorythoughts.wordpress.com) continues his series on limited atonement with part two of his look at Dr. Nettles […]

  2. Posted by Juan Z on April 9, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    So basically “for those who accept Christ as their Savior?”

  3. Posted by Andy Chance on April 10, 2007 at 12:58 am

    In reading The Death of Death…, I was under the impression that Owen held a “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect position.” I remember saying something like “Jesus death was enough to cover the sins of all men of a million worlds.” Yet, he maintains that the intention of God was to save the elect.

    If Owen’s view is different, please explain how. Or, if this is different from the “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” view, please explain how.

  4. I think most would agree that their are non-redemptive (or maybe better said universal benefits accrued) from the atonement of Jesus Christ.

    My understanding is theologians and pastors disagree over the redemptive aspects of the atonement. Did Christ (through substution) pay the penalty for all the sins of the world?

    Did he just pay the penalty for all those who ever would believe (the elect of God)?

    I will try and comment more on this in the days to come. The important part is what the Scriptures say (which i am saving for last) through exegesis; of course, people disagree over the exegesis as well.

    Blessings to all- (interpret that however you like) :)

  5. In the words of Spurgeon, “Christ bought some good things for all men and all good things for some men.”

    FOOTNOTE: My wife and I had the privilege of taking Dr. Nettles and his wife out to dinner last year. As you would expect, he is a southern gentleman and a biblical scholar!

  6. […] Summarizing Dr. Nettles on limited atonement Part II. […]

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