Ralph Wardlaw

1) 3. The hypothesis [a limitation of sin to Christ] renders the salvation of any besides the elect a natural impossibility. We are accustomed to say, and we say truly and scripturally, to sinners of mankind, that if they are not saved, the fault is entirely their own, lying solely in their own unwillingness to have the salvation offered them, or to accept it on the terms on which it is presented. But on the supposition of limitation in the atonement, this is not the case. There is, indeed, indisposition on their part; and it is their sin. But if the atonement be limited in its sufficiency, it is, in the nature of the thing, absurd and contradictory so much as to imagine any, beyond the number to the amount of whose sins it is restricted, deriving any benefit from it. To call on any others to believe in Christ for salvation, is to call them, in as far as they are concerned, to believe in a non-entity. There would be nothing in the Savior for them. They are excluded by the limitation of the remedy. For them to seek salvation would be to seek an impossibility. Were they ever so desirous of it, they could not obtain it; for the impossibility would, in this case, arise, not from their own impotence,–(their moral impotence, which is the same thing as their proud and unholy aversion, and constitutes their guilt,)–but from the very nature and constitution of the plan of redemption. If the atonement made has been equivalent to only a limited amount of sin, and if atonement be necessary to forgiveness,–then beyond the limited amount, no sin can possibly be forgiven. There is no provision for it.

4. This being the case, it will be difficult, on such a hypothesis, to vindicate, in any way, the sincerity of those divine addresses by which sinners universally are called upon to believe and be saved. If there do not exist, in the atonement or propitiation made, what has appropriately been termed an objective sufficiency for all–there really exists no ground on which sinners in general can be invited to trust. Such invitation becomes no better than a tantalizing of perishing creatures, with the offer of what has no existence. There is nothing which it is, in the nature of the thing, possible for them to receive, unless a new atonement were to be made. There is no fund from which their debts can be paid. They are invited to a feast; but there is no provision made for them. They are called to the wells of salvation; but to them they are "wells without water." An all-sufficient Saviour, becomes, in addressing sinners indiscriminately, a designation destitute of truth, a mere "great swelling word of vanity.” Ralph Wardlaw, Two Essays: On Assurance and On the Extent of the Atonement (Glasgow, 1830), p. 193-194.1 [Some spelling modernized; some reformatting; underlining mine.]

2) The vindicator of the scheme under notice admits, as a valid ground of objection to the theory of exact equivalent, which theory he repudiates, that it leaves no consistent ground for the universality of gospel invitations,—no ground on which they can honestly be addressed to mankind at large. Now, it does appear to me, that the limited destination view of the atonement, as above explained, is encumbered, and hardly to a less degree, with a similar difficulty. Observe how the case stands. According to the hypothesis, the divine Being, acting on the principles of justice, "cannot either remit sin without satisfaction, or punish sin where satisfaction for it has been received." On the ground of satisfaction having been received for the sins of the elect, the writer, as we have seen, concludes that it would be a violation of justice to punish them in their own persons. And from the fact that "all are not delivered from the punishment of sin, that there are many who perish in final condemnation," he infers, on the principle stated, and quite consistently, that "for such no satisfaction has been given to the claims of divine justice,–no atonement has been made."–But if so–and if the Divine Being "cannot," consistently with his justice, "remit sin without a satisfaction;" then it follows, that the pardon and salvation of a single individual, beyond the number of the elect, was prevented, not merely by a sovereign limitation in the divine purpose, but by a barrier of quite a different kind,–that it is rendered impossible by the principles and claims of justice. On the principles of this hypothesis, God could not save a single soul amongst those who shall actually perish, on account of the atonement made by the blood of his Son, without an infraction of those principles and claims; no satisfaction having been given, no atonement having been made for them, But if so,–if the restriction of the atonement has been such (no matter under what aspect or designation) as to render the salvation of more than those for whom, in destination, it was made, impossible in justice,–as impossible, that is, as that the just One should act unrighteously;–do not we feel ourselves as completely fettered in making the universal offer of pardon to our fellow-sinners, as we did on the scheme of limited sufficiency, or exact equivalent? If the atonement made has not been made for them, is not the exclusion from the possibility of salvation as complete as on the supposition of an atonement of limited sufficiency? If in such a sense no atonement has been made for them, as that they could not be saved without a violation of justice, is not the natural impossibility as real and as great as on the principle of exact equivalent? And do we not, on the one hypothesis, as much as on the other, invite? them to what for them has no existence, and tantalize them with the offer of what is not provided for them?2

3) I pass from this scheme, then, to the second,– the scheme of infinite sufficiency, but limited DESTINATION. Does it present a consistent ground for the universality of Gospel invitations and offers? And I am constrained to answer, that the very points in which it differs from the third scheme, (that of universal atonement limited in its sovereign application) and from which it derives its own distinctiveness, place it, in this respect, as nearly as possible, on the very same footing with the first, or exact equivalent scheme. In last discourse I briefly showed this. Definite destination, we then saw, means this:

That the Lord Jesus Christ made atonement to God, by his death, only for the sins of those to whom, in the sovereign good pleasure of the Almighty, the benefits of his death shall be finally applied. By this definition, the extent of Christ’s atonement is limited to those who ultimately enjoy its fruits: it is restricted to the elect of God, for whom alone we conceive him to have laid down his life.3

By the respected writer who thus states the scheme, the atonement is farther represented as being so exclusively for the elect, as that these two things follow;–first, that God is bound in justice to pardon each and all those for whom it was made; and, secondly, that he cannot, consistently with justice, pardon any others, inasmuch as no atonement has been made for them, and justice does not admit of sin’s being pardoned without it.–Now here there appears to me to be as perfect a natural impossibility, as on the former scheme.–On the scheme of exact equivalent, whence is it that the natural impossibility arises? Whence but from the circumstance, that, the value or sufficiency of the atonement having been limited by the deserts of a certain number there was no atonement for the rest? It is from this,–from there being no atonement for the rest, that the rest cannot consistently be invited to pardon and to the other blessings of salvation. Now, the very same is the case with the definite destination scheme. There is no atonement for the rest. It makes not the slightest difference whence this arises; whether from limited sufficiency, or from limited destination. If there be no atonement for any, beyond the number of the elect, there is the same natural impossibility in the one case as in the other. The advocates of the second scheme rest the propriety and consistency of the unlimited and untrammeled offers of the gospel (for which they contend as decidedly as we do) on the basis of the infinite sufficiency of the atonement in point of intrinsic worth. But by adopting the principle of limited destination, they seem to me to sweep this very basis away. Let the amount of value in the atonement itself be ever so great,–let it be "infinite, absolute, all-sufficient;" still, if in the divine destination it be so for the elect as that there is no atonement for others, but that before the sins of any beyond the elect could, in consistency with the demands of justice, be pardoned, another atonement would require to be made for them; then surely, as much as on the principle of limited amount, you invite sinners in general to what has no existence. There is atonement, indeed,–atonement infinite in value; but the case is by this rendered only the more tantalizing:–it is not for them; nor are there for them any blessings on account of it, to which they can, with any semblance of consistency, be invited. I delight in the sentiment of the writer whose views I have been quoting, when he says:

In the fullest sense of the terms, we regard the atonement of Christ as SUFFICIENT FOR ALL. This all-sufficiency is what lays foundation for the unrestricted universality of the gospel call. And from every such view of the atonement as would imply that it was not sufficient for all, or that there was not an ample warrant in the invitations of the gospel for all to look to it for salvation, we utterly dissent.4

My wonder is,–and with sincere respect and deference, I confess it is not small,–that the inconsistency should not at once he apparent, between the declaration of "an ample warrant in the invitations of the gospel for all to look to it for salvation" and the affirmation, with regard to a vast proportion of these "all," that there is no atonement for them. For if there be no atonement for them, there can be no salvation for them;–and surely the invitations of the gospel can never consistently go beyond the extent of the provision made. Where there is no provision, there can be no invitation.5 [Some spelling modernized; some reformatting; bracketed footnotes original; and underlining mine.]


1Ralph Wardlaw, Two Essays: On Assurance and On the Extent of the Atonement (Glasgow, 1830), 193-194.

2Wardlaw, Ralph Wardlaw, On the Nature and Extent of the Atonement of Christ (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1843), 69-71.

3[Dr. Symington, page 238.] Footnotes 83 and 84 are original to Wardlaw. I have modernized their respective footnote values and located them here for ease of reading and formatting.

4[Dr. William Symington–page 239.]

5Ralph Wardlaw, On the Nature and Extent of the Atonement, 99-102.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 at 12:40 pm and is filed under Limited Satisfaction and the Free Offer of the Gospel. 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.