Written by: J.W. Hendryx
Within the Dispensational theological camp there are quite a number of so-called four-point Calvinists. This means that while they fully embrace most Calvinistic soteriology, such as the biblical doctrine of irresistible grace, yet they believe Christ died with the same universal intent for all humanity. To put it another way, unlike traditional full-orbed Calvinists, they do not believe Christ died (redemptively) for the elect only. With the notable exception of the MacArthur Dispensationalists who are five point Calvinists, most others in that camp (such as those influenced by Dallas Seminary) reject the doctrine of limited atonement. Well… what I would like to demonstrate today is that rather than giving reasons why they are wrong, I am more inclined simply to call them inconsistent, for I believe it can be easily demonstrated that most of them already believe in limited atonement without consciously knowing that they do. Here’s why:
Four point Calvinists will all agree, along with us, that irresistible grace, faith and repentance are gifts of God granted only to the elect. But four-point Calvinists somehow fail to connect the dots because they have not apprehended that these benefits as part of the redemptive work of Christ. We must consider that God does not give us generic grace apart from the work of Christ but all spiritual and redemptive blessings derive their potency from Christ and Christ alone (Eph 1:3). Therefore any belief in a “Christless” irresistible grace or gift of faith is absurd. I am led to believe that perhaps many of them have simply never thought of this. The result is that it should be plain to all that Christ died in a way (redemptively – to procure irresistable grace) for the elect that He did not for the non-elect.
If only the elect receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who irresistibly draws His own people (John 6:63, 65, 37) that they might believe the gospel …. and the same Spirit is never given in such a way to the non-elect (which four-pointers will affirm), then the only conclusion one can reach is that there is a benefit in the death of Christ which was never intended for the non-elect. By maintaining four-point calvinism one must separate the benefits from the Benefactor. In other words, the only way to consistently believe in four-point Calvinism is to erroneously conclude that irresistible grace is a grace given to people apart from Jesus Christ; something I would bet that none of them are willing to do.
Look with me at John 16:7. Here Jesus tells his disciples, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
Here the distribution of the Holy Spirit is spoken of as one of the benefits of His death and resurrection. We all agree (4 & 5 pointers) that the Holy Spirit’s illumination and effectual grace is given to the elect only. Therefore the new heart granted by Jesus which produces faith & repentance is also part of the package of benefits granted for the elect and not the non-elect. To separate our desire and ability to believe the gospel from Christ Himself, who gives these gifts and benefits, makes no sense at all. I must conclude therefore that four-point Calvinists are not thinking Christocentrically with regard to the benefits of the atonement.
Four-point Calvinists will admit that justification and sanctification are works of Christ applied by the Spirit. How is it then that irresistible grace and illumination are viewed separately from Christ? They admit the former as a redemptive benefit of Christ but somehow overlook the latter as from Christ, who Himself grants his Holy Spirit. In fact, all gracious benefits of redemption find their origin in Christ… and it is Jesus, the very Author of these redemptive benefits and graces, who procures them by His life, death and resurrection. Thus, the capacity for faith (Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25) is just like any other redemptive benefit that was purchased by Christ on the cross. He bestows no grace upon us which was not also procured by His merits.
Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2) and He is a full and perfect Savior to us. Unless He had acquired faith and repentance for us, no one would ever have been united to Christ and made a partaker of salvation. Christ is the cause of all spiritual gifts bestowed on us. Four-pointers cannot therefore both grant the reality of irresistible grace and deny a particular atonement. One is dependent on the other. Irresistible grace and limited atonement are really speaking of the same blessing but looked at from different perspectives … two sides of the same coin, so to speak. The gift of the Holy Spirit that the elect might believe and the work of Christ are, therefore, inseparable. They are always joined together in the Scripture (Rom 8:9; John 16:7). Therefore salvation does not come to any others than those to whom the Holy Spirit was given in Christ.
Since we agree that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given only to the elect, there is no reason to believe why the gift of the Son should be more extensive. Plainly, and all agree, the Holy Spirit is given to none other than the elect, to irresistibly draw them and grant them life (John 6:63-65, 44). This benefit of infalliby drawing the elect is never given to the non-elect. Therefore, Christ died redemptively for the elect but not the non-elect. This is irrefutable.
Unless someone is willing to separate the benefit of irresistible grace from the work of Christ (i.e. tout a Christless grace) then there should be no argument left against the biblical validity of limited atonement.
Some many ask, is there any sense in which Christ died for the non-elect?
Most Reformed persons do believe that there are indeed aspects of Christ’s atonement which benefit all persons. So there are ways in which he died for the non-elect. For instance, God’s wrath is now averted toward those who should be immediately judged, and God patience is revealed toward them because of Christ … and this also includes the non-elect.
As an example of one who historically believed this, Francis Turretin in his masterful work on the atonement wrote:
“We do not inquire whether the death of Christ gives occasion to the imparting of some blessings even to the reprobates. Because it is in consequence of the death of Christ that the Gospel is preached to all nations, that the gross idolatry of many heathen nations has been abolished, that the daring impiety of man is greatly restrained by the word of God, that multitudes of the human family obtain many and excellent blessings, though not saving gifts, of the Holy Spirit. It is unquestionable that all these flow from the death of Christ, for there would have been no place for them in the Church, unless Christ had died. The question is, whether the suretyship and satisfaction of Christ were, by the will of God and purpose of Christ, destined for every individual of Adam’s posterity, as our opponents teach, or for the elect only, as we maintain. ” Francis Turretin The Atonement pg. 104
Also, I would like you all to consider one more thing with regard to the atonement. Can someone consistently say that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of who would be saved and then teach that God punished Christ for the purpose of redeeming every single man that ever lived? Do you really think that God can intend to do something HE KNOWS cannot possibly come about? If God already knows and determines who will be saved (as we all agree) He would be ‘wasting his time’, so to speak, trying to save persons He knows will never come to Him. It is clear that we cannot paste such ignorance on God. Surely we should credit God with having as much sense as we do. What human being would make a great but useless and needless sacrifice? To think that Christ died redemptively for people that He already knows will never believe, would be making God out to be smaller than the Scriptures teach. And if He knows already who will be saved would it even be possible to think of the Holy Spirit as trying equally to save all men? This line of reasoning acts as if He had no knowledge of such things. Consider the dire consequences of this inconsistent position.
I believe I have demonstrated (hopefully to everyone’s satisfaction) that those who call themselves four-point Calvinists may be surprised to hear that they already believe in limited atonement, perhaps without knowing it, and the reason they do not believe this also comes from failing to see Christ and His work at the center of their exegesis and understanding of what He did to procure our salvation.