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1 John 2:2 and the Argument for Limited Atonement

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2: 1-2

The aim of this essay is to draw out the implicit forms of the argument which are normally assumed in arguments for limited satisfaction based on 1 John 2:2. My goal is to make these implicit arguments or assumptions explicit.1 As with many of the arguments for limited satisfaction, the basic form runs along the lines of a modus tollens axis.2 A premise is alleged, and then a modus tollens argument is enlisted. More formally the argument looks something like this: If Christ died for a person, that person cannot fail be saved.3 This is then simply generalized or converted into a universal statement:

If Christ died for the whole world, then the whole world will necessarily be saved4
It is not the case that the whole world is saved
Therefore, it is not the case that Christ died for the whole world

I argue that this sort of argument lies at the back of the arguments for limited satisfaction based on 1 John 2:2.

The overarching goal of this essay is to remove the alleged logical impediments enlisted to restrict or limit the meaning of “whole world” in 1 John 2:2.

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1) 2. And not for ours only. He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel. Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world. John Calvin, 1 John 2:2.


2) Georgius thinks he argues very acutely when he says: Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world; and hence those who wish to exclude the reprobate from participation in Christ must place them outside the world. For this, the common solution does not avail, that Christ suffered sufficiently for all, but efficiently for the elect. By this great absurdity, this monk has sought applause in his own fraternity, but it has no weight with me. Wherever the faithful are dispersed throughout the world, John extends to them the expiation wrought by Christ’s death. But this does not alter the fact that the reprobate are mixed up with the elect in the world. It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the world. But the solution lies close at hand, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but should have eternal life (Jn 3:15). For the present question is not how great the power of Christ is or what efficacy it has in itself, but to whom he gives Himself to be enjoyed. If possession lies in faith and faith emanates from the Spirit of adoption, it follows that only he is reckoned in the number of God’s children who will be partakers of Christ. The evangelist John sets forth the office of Christ as nothing else than by His death to gather the children of God into one (Jn 11:52). Hence we conclude that the reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they may be gathered into the society of life. However, while I say it is offered to all, I do not mean that this embassy, by which on Paul’s testimony (II Cor 5.18) God reconciles the world to Himself, reaches to all, but that it is not sealed indiscriminately on the hearts of all to whom it comes so as to be effectual.  John Calvin, The Eternal Predestination of God, p., 148-9.


Because the extent of Christ’s work is universal, it is offered likewise to every person, as noted above. However, the most common doubt among men is that the benefit of Christ’s death, which is ‘available and ready for all’, is personally available for them.14 Although Christ is offered to all, we readily see that not all receive him. This, states Calvin, is due to their hardness and unbelief.15 However, Calvin teaches that those who so reject Christ are ‘doubly culpable’ since they have rejected ‘the blessing in which they could share by faith’.16 It would be inexcusable to argue from this that Satan and his demons, as well as the ungodly, benefit from Christ. Nevertheless, Calvin maintains, an important distinction exists between the demons and the ungodly, and that is that ‘the benefit of redemption is offered to the ungodly, but not to the devils.’17 Even the ungodly are included precisely because Calvin consistently teaches that ‘no one is excluded from this salvation’ wrought for all by the death of Christ, provided they believe.18

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William Burkitt (1650-1703) on 1 John 2:1-2

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


MY little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

Observe here. The compellation. First, My little children. The apostle calls the Christians lo whom he wrote. Children, little children; his little children. He calls them Children, because converted to Christianity; little children, because young and lender Christians, of a low stature in religion, and far short of manly perfections; and his little children, to denote that spiritual relation which was between him and them, and that endeared affection which he bare towards them. St. John, by a loving compellation, makes way for a faithful admonition, which follows in the next words: These things I "write, that ye sin not. This must be understood in a qualified sense, thus: 1. Sin not, that is, as the wicked sin; take heed of scandalous enormities, though you cannot shake off daily infirmities. 2. Sin not, as in the same kind that others sin, so neither in the same manner that you yourselves before sinned; sin not with that fullness of deliberation, with that freedom of consent, sin not with that strength of resolution, with that frequency of action, with which you sinned before you were called to Christianity. 3. Sin not: that is, as fur as human nature will admit, abstain from all sin; let it be your care, prayer, study, endeavor, to keep yourselves from every evil thing. Thus Zachary and Elisabeth were blameless, Luke i. 6, that is, they lived in no sin known to the world, or known to themselves; so it is said of Job, ch. i. alt. he sinned not, that is, had no sin prevailing in him; no sin indulged by him. Observe, 3. As the cautionary direction, sin not: so the comfortable conclusion, but if any man sin, that is, through infirmity and weakness, through the policy of the tempter, or by the surprise of a temptation, we have an advocate, a mediator, and an intercessor in heaven, who is absolutely sinless, even Jesus Christ the righteous. It is a metaphor taken from courts of judicature, where are the guilty person, the accuser, the judge, and the advocate: thus here heaven is the court, man is the guilty person, Satan the accuser, God the judge, Christ the advocate. The proper office of an advocate is, not to deny the fact, or disown the guilt, but to offer something to the judge, whereby the law may be satisfied, and upon which the judge may, without any unrighteousness, discharge the accused. Observe, 4. An invaluable privilege here discovered, that Christ our advocate became a propitiation for us, and for the whole race of mankind, for all that lived before us, or shall live alter us, for Jews and Gentiles: there is a virtual sufficiency in the death of Christ for all persons, and an actual efficacy as to all believers. Learn hence, That our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering death upon the cross for our redemption, did by that one oblation of himself once offered, make a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world. The original word propitiation, signifies a propitiatory covering, an allusion to the mercy-seat that covered (he ark, in which the law was. In allusion to which, Christ is here called our propitiatory covering, because he hides our sins, the transgressions of the law, from his Father’s sight.

William Burkitt, Expository Notes With Practical Observations on the New Testament (Philadelphia: Published by Thomas Wardle, 1835), 2:767-758. [Italics original; underlining mine.]


I having in what goes before said enough for the opening of the true notion of our Savior’s expiating of sin, under the present head I have but two things further to speak unto—the one referring to the nature of the act, the other to the extent of the act.

1. As to the nature of the act, know that Christ hath so expiated sin’s guilt as that it shall never be imputed to the believing sinner, in order to the inflicting of eternal punishment upon him. This must be rightly apprehended, or else we shall run ourselves upon great mistakes. When you read of the expiating, condemning, taking away of sin, (and so on in the other expressions named but now,) you are not only to understand them as pointing to the removal of sin’s guilt, in their proper and primary intention, but also as holding forth no more about that removal of guilt than the non-imputation thereof to punishment. Christ indeed, by the sacrifice of himself, hath done all that which I am speaking of; but how? Not but that believers have yet guilt upon them; that that guilt, as considered in itself, makes them liable to the penalty threatened; that the formal intrinsic nature of guilt, viz., obligation to punishment, doth yet remain, and is the same in them which it is in others. All, therefore, which it amounts unto is only this, that this guilt shall not be charged upon such, or imputed to them for eternal condemnation. Sin is sin in the godly as well as in the ungodly; thereupon there is guilt upon them as well as on the other, and upon this guilt they are equally obnoxious to the law’s sentence. But now here comes in the expiation by the obedience, death, satisfaction of Christ, by which things are brought to this happy issue, that though this be so, yet these persons shall be exempted from wrath and hell, and the punishment deserved shall not be inflicted. Thus far we may safely go, but beyond this we cannot; we may, for the encouraging of faith, the heightening of comfort, set this sin-expiatory act of Christ very high, but we must not set it so high as to assert contradictions. But these things will be more fully stated when I .shall come to the handling of the main doctrine of justification.

2. For the extent of the act, that must be considered two ways; either as it respects the subject for which this expiation was wrought, or as it respects the object, the thing expiated.

As to its extent in reference to the subject. And so Christ’s expiatory sacrifice reaches, (1.) both to Jew and Gentile; not to the one or to the other exclusively, but to both: 1 John ii. 2, ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’ (2.) To those who lived under the law, as well as to those who now live under the gospel. The former had the benefit of Christ’s expiation of sin as well as the latter: Rom. iii. 2.5, ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness, for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God’—where by sins past you are to understand those that were committed under the first testament, before Christ’s coming in flesh. So the apostle opens it: Heb. ix. 15, ‘And for this cause he is the mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.’ Nay (3.) there is a sufficiency of virtue and merit in Christ’s sacrifice to expiate the sins of all men in the world. Yet (4.) in point of efficacy it extends no further than to true believers. Others may receive some benefits by a dying Christ; but this of the full and actual expiation of sin belongs only to those who have saving faith wrought in them. As this which I here assert is matter of controversy, I have no mind to engage in it. As it is practically to be improved and enlarged upon, so I shall speak to it in the use; therefore at present I will say no more to it.

Thomas Jacombe, Sermons on the Eight Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1868), 309-310. [Some spelling modernized, underlining mine.]

[Notes: Jacombe here echoes Thomas Aquinas on this verse, and this view was later taken up by Charles Hodge.]

Credit to Tony for the find


Nathanael Hardy on 1 John 2:2

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John II. 2.

WORDS amiable as beauty to the eye, harmonious as music to the ear, sweet as honey to the taste, and joyous as wine to the heart. Who can read them and not be affected? hear them and not be ravished? meditate on them and not be delighted? Believe them and not be comforted? Diligenter obserranda cordibusque inscribenda sunt haee verba, saith Ferus1 aptly. These words deserve to be written, yea, engraven upon the tables of our hearts, as containing in them that which cannot but afford unspeakable joy to the wounded conscience. The person spoken of is Jesus Christ, whose very name is as a precious ointment; the thing spoken of is a pacification between God and sinners, than which no perfume can be sweeter. Finally, this benefit is set forth as obtained by this person, not for a few, but many, some, but all, and so like the light diffusing itself through the whole world; and therefore I trust, since we are all concerned in, we shall all be diligently attentive to, this precious scripture: ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins,’ &c. Having already unfolded the nature, we are now to handle the extent of this excellent benefit, which is expressed two ways:

Negatively, and not for ours only;

Affirmatively, but also for the sins of the whole world.

1. A word of the former, ‘not for ours only.’ It is that which lets us see the nature of faith. True faith applieth, but doth not appropriate; or if you will, it doth appropriate, but it doth not appropriate to itself. A believer so maketh Christ his own, as that still he is, or may be, another’s as well as his; and the reason of this is,

Partly in regard of the nature of the object, which is such that it is capable of being communicated to many as well as few; for as the air is a means of reconciliation, the sun an instrument of illumination, and the sea a place of navigation for the people of our country, and yet not ours only, those being things so communicative, that every one may have a share in them; nor is one man’s or people’s enjoying an hindrance to another; so is Christ a propitiation for the sins of St John and the rest of believers then living, but not for theirs only, he being koinon agathon, a common good, and his propitiation such as that the participation of it by some doth not at all impede others from having the like interest.

And partly in respect of the temper of the subject, this being the frame of a believer’s spirit, that he would have others partake of the same benefit with himself. The apostle St Paul saith of faith. Gal. v. 6, that it ‘worketh by love,’ and accordingly as faith brings Christ home to itself, so the love by which it worketh is desirous he might be imparted to others. To this purpose it is observable, that that holy apostle, when he speaketh of a crown which shall be given to him, 2 Tim. iv. 8, presently addeth, ‘and not to me only,’ as here St John, ‘ for our sins, and not for ours only.’

To wind up this. Whereas there are two objections amongst others made against the applying act of faith, as if it were a bold presumption in regard of Christ, and an uncharitable excluding of others from having the same benefit, to say he is ours, and that he is the propitiation for our sins, both will be found no better than calumnies; since, on the one hand, faith’s particular application is within the bounds, and according to the tenure of the gospel promise, and therefore it is no presumption; and, on the other hand, faith’s applying Christ to ourselves is not thereby to withhold him from any other, and therefore it is no uncharitableness; for whilst faith saith, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins,’ love addeth, and ‘ not for ours only.’ And so much, or rather so little, of the negative; pass we on to the,

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