Dear Mr. R—
Thank you for the passages of Scripture to which you direct my attention in connection with the truth of Christ’s particular atonement. When I do as you suggest, namely, compare Isaiah 53:1 with John 12: 37-40, I do not find anything to deny that the atonement is anything but particular or limited to the believers only, and therefore limited to the believers only, and therefore limited only to the elect. For the “report” of the Gospel, although it is proclaimed to all, is not revealed to all. It is revealed to some, and concealed from the rest (who were blinded, i.e. hardened: Romans 11:7). In fact, Jesus gives thanks to the Father for this same sovereign work: “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11: 25). Of these “babes” it is said, “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them (that are without) it is not given” (Matthew 13:11): and “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they “hear” (v. 16). Why, ultimately, do some hear and see, and others do not? Nothing less than the sovereign good pleasure of God: “even so, Father, for so it seemed good in “Thy sight” (11:26).
In John 12, the passage you suggested, the fact of man’s unbelief is stated: “they believed not.” That is they did not believe. The reason why these did not believe is revealed in the fact that the Arm of the Lord was not revealed into them. Further, they did not because “they could not believe” (v. 39). Here is declared both their total depravity and total inability. Here is taught that man is absolutely depraved. But, few, today, will have it so. It is teaching too humiliating to the sinful flesh! Yet it is to be noted still further, that the reason why “they could not believe” was because God had blinded and hardened them. Why did God do this? “That (so that) they should not see… nor understand…” (40). It is not stated here, as modern men say, that they could not believe because they refused to believe, but that they could not believe because God had sovereignty determined to harden them! Why, if god would have all men to believe, does He not give all men the faith to believe? For “all men have not faith.” God commands all men to believe, even the finally reprobate. But we are not to conclude from this that therefore God has ordained them to faith. The reprobate are obliged to believe, even though they cannot. For where fallen man has lost his ability to perform, God has not His prerogative to demand His due. If all this is not true, why did Jesus, immediately after exhorting some certain to believe, withdraw from them, concealing Himself from them? (John 12:36). Why withdraw the very Divine presence necessary that men may believe? But to His own He was present, not hidden, and He opened their eyes, and they knew Him (Luke 24:31).
This is in keeping with Acts 13:46-48. Why did the Jews remain in the condition of putting the Gospel from themselves? Because they were not ordained to eternal life. Even God’s elect, before they are converted, will do nothing else but put the Gospel from them. But because they are ordained to eternal life, grace will overcome them, and turn their hearts to the wisdom of the just. This text plainly identifies the believers – they who are ordained to eternal life, and no others. The Arminian turns this text into its very opposite: ‘as many as believed were ordained to eternal life.’ He twists the text on foreseen faith, which it is not! Faith is one of the fruits of election. Why do believers believe? Because they were chosen to faith. Why is it the finally impenitent do not believe? They were never Christ’s own (“I never knew you.”), never His sheep. This is the very word of Christ. “Ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep” (John 10:26). But again, the Arminian must twist this text also into its very opposite, and make it say: “ye are not My sheep because ye believe not.” That statement as well, is not found in Scripture. So also, “ye therefore hear them not (God’s words), because ye are not of God” (8:47). This is turned to its opposite: ‘ye are not of God because ye hear them not.’ To this method of handling Scripture it makes no difference whether a man is of God or not, for he can hear if he will, or refuse to hear, if he will. If he is not a sheep, he can become a sheep, if he only will. But Jesus avers that they who are not His sheep “believe not!”
I agree with you that “all” Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the text, context, and co-related Scriptures” But then the opinion of “universal atonement” will not stand up under that rule. “Universal atonement” is a Pelagian philosophy foisted upon the Scripture. It is not exegeted from Scripture. For it depends upon the context how the words you referred to, “all”, “every” and “world” are to be understood. The word “all” often has a limited sense, as in Mark1:5; “And there went out unto him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and they were all baptized of him…” Compare also “all men glorified God for that which was done” (Acts 4:21). Jesus warned His disciples that they would be “hated of all men” for His name’s sake (Luke 21:27).
So with the word “world.” This term has approximately nine shades of meaning, depending on the use of it in its context. Sometimes the word means the whole universe of creation (Acts 17:24); sometimes it has reference to this earth in distinction from heaven (John 13:1); or in another place it means the whole human race (Romans 3:19); or the human race minus believers: “If the world hates you…” (John 15:18). Sometimes it means the world of the Gentiles (Romans 11:12). Or it has reference to the world of the ungodly (II Peter 2:5). John 3:16 speaks of the world of believers, the world of “whosoever believeth”.
Now, if in John 3:16 the world “world” means the whole world all humanity without exception, then answer these questions: Why isn’t the sin of that world taken away? John 1:29 says that Christ takes away the sin of the world. We must not twist that text to mean that He offers to take the sin away, or that He wants to take it away, or hopes to do so, attempts to do so, or proposes to remove it (or some such “addition to the text”). This is no conditional statement. It is the statement of an unconditional fact. And since the finished work of Christ is an accomplished fact, then John 1:29 is also accomplished. The sin of the world is taken away. But the sin of what world? Of the world of the ungodly? We know better! If God loves the world in the sense in which the Arminians say, then why does He exhort us to “love not the world”? If He loves it, why doesn’t He command us to love it? Then if He loves the world, in the Arminian sense, why does He refuse to pray for it? For He says, “I pray for them.” For whom? For the men which Thou gravest Me out of the world” (John 17:6, 9). I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.”
In your notes on II Peter 3:9 you do not quite correctly represent Calvinism when you claim that “any and “all” mean regenerate believers only. For they refer, in the final analysis, to the elect. The elect are always clearly identified in Scripture. Here the identifying designation applied to them is that of “beloved” (vv. 1,8,17). But why “beloved”? why not “Christians”? or why not the “penitent”? or “believers”? Because they are the beloved who have been loved with an everlasting love (with a love for eternity), and have been made accepted in the Beloved One from before the foundation of the world. Therefore the Lord is longsuffering to them, as He is to all His elect, in order that He may have mercy on them, bring them to faith, conversion, repentance, and every saving good. So, the “longsuffering to us ward” means us who are God’s beloved; and therefore not one of the beloved every were or ever shall be in danger of wresting the Scripture to their own destruction; nor shall they fail to come to repentance. For the Lord is not willing that any of the “us ward” should perish, i.e. any of the beloved. And as a matter of fact, God does grant them repentance for that grace, as well as faith, is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8 with II Timothy 2:25).
But I would further ask you, if in time God is not willing that any should perish, then why is it that, nevertheless, in time God is “willing to show His wrath: upon “the vessels of wrath.” And cause them under that wrath to end in destruction (Romans 9:22)? And if He is not only willing (in the sense of wishful thinking) that the world have its sin taken away, but also actually “taketh away the sin of the world,” then why is it said of some, “your sin remaineth”? Does it somehow remain when He takes it away? Or, after He takes it away, can it ever return?
Our God is sovereign God. He does whatsoever He doth please (Psalm 115:3; 135:6). He does according to His good pleasure. “The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10). Doesn’t that mean that His pleasure shall never fail (Isaiah 42:4)? That His pleasure shall never be disannulled (14:27? That He shall do all His pleasure (46:10)? “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that (but have the pleasure that) the wicked turn from his way and live,” shall He not do all His pleasure? Shall not that pleasure prosper in His hand? This means that if God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked live, that then He certainly shall live! The elect are by nature wicked. But they do not die in hell, because God takes pleasure that they live! Nicht wahr? (Isn’t that so?)