In defining my own position, and stating what I consider to be the scriptural truth upon the subject, I must be permitted to exhibit what I consider to be the true state of the question, so as to prevent all possibility of misconception.

There is, I apprehend, a distinction to be always carefully maintained, between the work of atonement and the work of redemption. The one does not necessarily imply the other; redemption includes atonement, but it includes more; it includes its actual results; it is the application of the atonement issuing in final and complete salvation. The one, therefore, in its nature may be more extensive than the other. An unredeemed sinner has. even now a deep interest in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and whether eventually lost or saved, will feel that interest through the ages of his deathless being. With this understanding, redemption certainly is not general; and to affirm that it is limited is but stating the plainly revealed fact, that all men will not be saved.

In the view which we take of the subject, moreover, we separate the nature of the atonement from any secret unrevealed purpose of the infinite mind respecting its application. We do not deny the existence of such a purpose; so far from it that we cannot conceive of an intelligent, all-wise being acting in anything without design, and we cannot, without detracting from the honor and glory of him who is no less wise than holy in all his works, suppose otherwise than that in this great plan, and I may add effort of forgiving mercy, he had in view some certain, specific results. We do not believe that the issue of the atonement is in the infinite mind an open question. The results of a Redeemer’s work are not contingent results. They are absolutely certain. It is fixed, unalterably fixed, that the Savior is to be rewarded for his life of toil and ignominy, and his death of shame and agony. He is to “see of the travail of his soul and to be satisfied;” and a multitude greater than any man can number, of those who “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” shall give grace and glory to his triumph. But the ultimate design of the atonement as it exists in the mind of God is a very different thing from the nature of the atonement itself, as it is spread out before our view upon the pages of revealed truth. The question before us is not, what God intends to accomplish by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ; not how far the efficacy of that sacrifice will in point of fact reach; for upon these questions God has thrown a veil of impenetrable darkness; but what is the great moral, revealed purpose of the atonement; what is its intrinsic value and sufficiency; how far is it available in its own nature to the salvation of men? Did God mean to spread it over only a part, or the whole of the race? Are men, all men, as lost sinners, so interested in the atoning death of Jesus Christ, that they may, if they will, be saved by it? This is the question, and we unhesitatingly take the affirmative. Our position is, that through the sacrifice of Christ, God can be just, and yet forgive. Such is the character of the atonement, that, “it would comport with the glory of the divine character, the sustentation of God’s government, the obligation and honor of his law, and the good of the rational and moral system, to save all men, provided they accepted of Christ.” “Every legal bar and obstruction in the way of the salvation of all men is removed.”1 Such is the nature and efficacy of the atonement of the Son of God, that the relations not merely of some men, but of the entire race, are totally different from what they would have been, had the Savior never suffered and died; different, I mean, in this sense, that since this great atoning sacrifice has been offered, God can upon the ground of it consistently pardon the sins of all, and nothing now shuts a man out from forgiveness and hope, but his own unwillingness to accept of the offers of mercy made to him in the gospel. Such is the view of the fullness of the atonement which we desire to advocate, and which we would fain commend to the intelligent faith of our hearers.

Erskine Mason, “Extent of the Atonement,” in A Pastor’s Legacy Being Sermons on Practical Subjects (New York: Charles Scribner, 1853), 274-276. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.]


1Associate Reformed Synod’s Report, p. 53.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 at 12:48 pm and is filed under The Distinction Between Atonement and Redemption. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed at this time.