Who Limits the Atonement?

I gave a lecture earlier this evening to a group of almost 50 college students on the doctrine of limited atonement. I was very encouraged by the fact that these young people (only in their teens) were very much interested in reformed theology. The response was warm, but not surprisingly it seems number of them found some of the things I talked about difficult to accept. Someone even asked whether one could still be a Christian and not believe in limited atonement. I answered, “Yes.” Anyway, the term limited atonement is unfortunate. I prefer the term particular redemption. But, come to think of it, who actually limits the atonement? John Murray explains:

Whether the expression “limited atonement” is good or not we must reckon with the fact that unless we believe in the final restoration of all men we cannot have an unlimited atonement. If we universalize the extent we limit the efficacy. If some of those for whom atonement was made and redemption wrought perish eternally, then the atonement is not itself efficacious. It is this alternative that the proponents of universal atonement must face. They have a “limited” atonement and limited in respect of that which impinges upon its essential character. We shall have none of it. The doctrine of “limited atonement” which we maintain is the doctrine which limits the atonement to those who are heirs of eternal life, to the elect. That limitation insures its efficacy and conserves its essential character as efficient and effective redemption…

The atonement is efficacious substitution.

(John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, emphasis added)

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