On the distinction between Atonement and Redemption:

1) The Priestly Office of Christ is that office in both natures whereby He makes an atonement. In the same priestly office and in virtue of his atoning work his Intercession is maintained. Intercession belongs to Christ as priest: it includes his constant application of his sacrifice; or, generally, all his agency in redeeming mankind, in his glorified state.1 Of the two parts of Christ s work as Priest Atonement and Intercession we speak here only of The Atonement.

I. Usage of the word, and of certain terms which cluster about it.

1. Of the terms Redemption and Atonement. Redemption implies the complete deliverance from the penalty, power, and all the consequences of sin: Atonement is used in the sense of the sacrificial work, whereby the redemption from the condemning power of the law was insured.

2. Of the terms Reconciliation and Atonement. Reconciliation sets forth what is to be done: Atonement, in its current theological sense, likewise involves the idea of the way, the mode, in which the reconciliation is effected that is, by a sacrifice for sin.2 Henry B. Smith, System of Christian Theology, 2nd ed., (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1884), 437. [Some reformatting; italics original; footnote values changed; and underlining mine.]

Sins of the world:




I.–Comparison of Divine Sovereignty and The Incarnation as central principles.

Calvinistic theology has had unconsciously for the most part two germinant principles: Sovereignty and The Covenants; the former the older, the latter more narrow, but with some advantages. In the Confessions we often see an unconscious union of the two. Sovereignty tends to run into supralapsarianism and the assertion of the exclusive divine efficiency: Will is made to be all; the ethical is obscured. The objections to it are: (i.) It is too abstract; (b.) It is liable to perversion, to the construction that God is all Will; (c.) If it is taken concretely, i. e., if the Sovereignty is understood to stand for Plan, it comes to much the same with our principle: Incarnation in order to Redemption is God’s Plan.

II.–Comparison of The Incarnation and The Covenants, as the central principles.

1. The original usage of The Covenant, in theology, as set ting forth an arrangement, an ordering, on the part of God, is allowable and true.

2. As applied in the Covenant of Works: “This do and thou shalt live,” we may say, It is as if there was such a covenant.

3. As applied in the Covenant of Redemption, that between the Father and the Son, it sets forth clearly, for popular representation, that in the divine plan, Christ performs conditions and his people are given to Him in consequence. (Only in this Covenant there should be included all that Christ s work accomplished: Propitiation for the sins of the whole world and the General Offer of Salvation as well as the Provision for the Elect.) Henry B. Smith, System of Christian Theology, 2nd ed., (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1884), 377-378. [Some reformatting; italics original; footnote values changed; and underlining mine.]


5. Consideration of Objections.

Obj. I. Why may we not interpret all that is said about the sacrifice of Christ just as we should interpret the language when it is said that one man suffers for another, a mother for a child, a patriot for his country and such like where all that we mean is, that by the suffering some outward good was attained, or some evil averted some peril warded off? This would make the doctrine more intelligible, level to our present associations, analogous to what is daily seen in God s providence.

But what special temporal good was purchased by Christ for his followers: what special temporal evil did his death avert from them? None absolutely none. Such an explanation, instead of making the Scriptural representations intelligible, makes them wholly unintelligible. The good He purchased was a spiritual good, a freedom from the condemnation for sin arid the sense of guilt. Outward good might follow the inward; but the inward was first. The good He purchased for us had relation to human sin, and not chiefly to the evils which beset humanity. He was a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. One man may die for another man: but how can the death of the one procure from God the pardon of the sins of the other? Here the analogy utterly fails. Henry B. Smith, System of Christian Theology, 2nd ed., (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1884), 453-454. [Some reformatting; italics original; footnote values changed; and underlining mine.]

To state the case, to one who is familiar with the mode in which the New Testament speaks of Christ, is almost to prove it. It is hardly an exaggeration, when a distinguished apologist for Christianity 3 asserts.–“that Christ suffered and died as an atonement for the sins of the world is a doctrine so constantly infused through the New Testament that whoever will seriously peruse these writings and deny that it is there, may with as much reason and truth, after reading the works of Thucydides and Livy, assert that in them no mention is made of any facts in relation to the history of Greece and Rome.” Henry B. Smith, System of Christian Theology, 2nd ed., (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1884), 450.

The extent of the atonement:




1. Statement of the Question.

It is: Did Christ die for all men or only for the elect? Some who contend for the latter position differ among themselves: a part insisting that the sufficiency and efficiency of the Atonement are identical, that Christ suffered what the elect deserved and only that: others taking the ground that the Atonement is sufficient for all, yet made only for the elect, that only the provision for them was in God’s design, that the sufficiency for others is simply incidental. There are also differences among the advocates of a General Atonement. Lutherans: Christ died to make such satisfaction that God could offer salvation to all. Election is denied. Arminians: that God might offer salvation to all on the ground of a less strict obedience. This also denies election. Others: to prevent the evils of mere pardon, to sustain the authority of a beneficent government. This allows election. There may be points of agreement:

(1) As to the nature of the Atonement; (2) As to its sufficiency and universal applicability; (3) As to its actual application to believers only, or, leaving out of view Lutherans and Arminians, to the elect only.

To the question, then, Did Christ come into the world, suffer and die, solely for the elect? the theory of Limited Atonement replies: That was the sole design: all other objects effected thereby are not of the design, but incidental; the truth of General Atonement says: The Atonement made by Christ is made for all mankind, is such in nature and design, that God can save all men, consistently with the demands of holiness, on condition of faith and repentance.


1. The distinction is to be made between Atonement and Redemption. Atonement is the provision.

2. The design of the Atonement was to save the elect, but not merely to save them; it was also designed to impart some blessings to the whole world, and to make the offer of salvation and the duty of accepting Christ urgent upon all who hear.

3. Not that it was actually designed to be applied to all, but to some.

4. Not that it is consistent with all the interests of the divine government for God actually to save all, but consistent with the demands of penal justice.

5. The Atonement, as such, does not save any.

2. Proof of General Atonement.

1. The key-passage is 1 Tim. iv. 10.

2. God offers salvation to all men: therefore it has been provided for all. Isa. xlv. 22; Iv. 1-3; Matt. xi. 28-30; Rev. iii. 20; xxii. 17. It is sometimes said that the meaning is: “Some among all classes” or “in all lands.” But (a.) this is an unscriptural distinction; (b.) we do not know that the offer, in the sense of “effectual calling,” is made to “some in all” these cases: (c.) the sincerity of God is here at stake: He offers to all a salvation which He has not provided for all.

3. Special guilt is ascribed to those who reject the atonement. Matt, xxiii. 37; Luke xiv. 17; John iii. 19; Acts vii. 51.

4. Scripture declares the Atonement to be for all. John i. 29; iii. 17; xii. 47; 1 Tim. ii. 6; 2 Cor. v. 14, 15; Heb. ii. 9 ; 1 John ii. 2.

5. All men receive some benefits from the atonement,

(a.) The offer of eternal life, to many non-elect.

(b.) The knowledge of the divine plan and ways,

(c.) The continuance of probation and many temporal blessings.

6. There is an argument for General Atonement–ex concessis. It is conceded to be “sufficient” for all: then it was designed to be so: then, it is consistent for God to offer and if to offer, then to grant, on conditions. To the question, “Is it sufficient then for fallen angels?” the obvious reply is, Christ did not come for them.

7. Some special arguments.

(1) The parallel between Adam and Christ, Rom. v. 18

(2) Christ lays down His life for some not saved. Rom. xiv. 15; 1 Cor. viii. 11; Heb. x. 29; 2 Pet. ii. 1.

(3) From the connection of truths, (a.) From the view it gives of the glorious character of the divine government. God, the God of grace, (b.) From the effects of the doctrine on men the high moral influence, (c.) From the view it gives of the final condemnation of the lost. God s mercy provided a way: they refuse: their condemnation is just resisting grace, (d.) Christ s relations to the universe are consistent only with General Atonement.

3. Objections to General Atonement.

1. It supposes different and inconsistent purposes in God.

Not so: one purpose is, to make the salvation of all possible; another is, to save some; what inconsistency?

2. God makes provision for an end, which He determines never to effect.

Not so: God makes provision to make the salvation of all men possible.

3. It is inconsistent with the doctrine of election.

Not, if election is on this basis. The condemnation at least of some non-elect is, in part, on the ground of refusal.

4. The divine holiness demands the salvation of all for whom provision is made.

–Not if other good reasons forbid.

5. The Scripture says, Christ died to save his people.

It also says, Christ died for the whole world. Christ s special design does not exclude a more general design. To say, Christ came to save, redeem, deliver, sanctify his people, is most certainly true, but is, in this argument, a petitio principii; it assumes that Christ in his work had only one design. The doctrine of General Atonement does not assert that the purpose of God in Christ s death had equal respect to the elect and the non-elect, in the sense that God intended to apply it equally.

6. From the union of Christ and his people. All that Christ did, it is said, He did for those who are united to Him by faith.

This is most true, but is irrelevant here. The doctrine of General Atonement does not assert that all that Christ did and does, He does for all mankind. Henry B. Smith, System of Christian Theology, 2nd ed., (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1884), 478-481. [Some reformatting; italics original; footnote values changed; and underlining mine.]

[Brief biographical notes:  1) In the decades after 1840 New School theology became more conservative. Its proponents widely criticized Finney’s prefectionism. They attacked Darwinism, early biblical criticism, and German philosophy and theology. Henry B Smith of Union Theological Seminary emerged as the leading spokesman. His defense of systematic theology and biblical infallibility and his perceptions that New Schoolers had become more orthodox were influential in the reunion of the Presbyterian Church in 1869.  W. A Hoffecker (Elwell Evangelical Dictionary). 2) What most impresses the student of Warfield’s writings—apart from his deeply religious spirit, his sense of complete dependence on God for all things including especially his sense of indebtedness as a lost sinner to His free grace—is the breadth of his learning and the exactness of his scholarship. Caspar Wistar Hodge, his immediate successor at Princeton Seminary and long his associate, in his Inaugural Address after referring to the illustrious men who had given the institution fame throughout the world for sound learning and true piety, such as Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge and Archibald Alexander Hodge, spoke of Warfield as ‘excelling them all in erudition.’ John DeWitt, long the professor of Church History in Princeton Seminary and himself a man of no mean scholarship, once told the writer that he had known intimately the three great Reformed theologians of America of the preceding generation— Charles Hodge, W.G.T. Shedd and Henry B. Smith—and that he was not only certain that Warfield knew a great deal more than any one of them but that he was disposed to think that he knew more than all three of them put together. Samuel G. Craig. See also the brief Wiki entry on Smith.]

[Notes: 1) Smith was an exponent of the American Presbyterian and Calvinist trajectory which distinguished between atonement and redemption. The former being universal, the latter particular. 2) This trajectory, however, is now largely unknown to us moderns. The origins, rise and eventual disappearance is from the American theological landscape is, as far as I can ascertain, undocumented in Calvinist historiography. 3) This delineation, however, did have precedents (my suspicion is that it reaches back into Edwardsian New England theology), and was later echoed by W.G.T Shedd and R.L. Dabney.  4) This approach was primarily American, with rare exception(s) in Britain. For example, Andrew Fuller’s later doctrine of the atonement most probably fits into this category.]


1This is treated by the author under the Third Division of Theology; as the priestly side of Christ’s office as King.

2A writer who became prominent as a controversialist on this subject, wrote, some years ago: " Every tyro in theology knows or ought to know that atonement means nothing more than at-one-ment, that is, the reconciliation of opposing parties." But none but a tyro in theology knows that this is its only sense. Even admitting the correctness of this etymology, it must be said that this way of reducing the large import of language to the smallest possible dimensions, by means of etymology alone, and of deciding theological controversies by an appeal to the primitive sense of words before they had gained their full signification is one unworthy of the scholar and the theologian. All the etymology in the world would never be sufficient to show that atonement means only reconciliation for the very plain reason, that for hundreds of years it has borne in the English language an additional sense, that is, it includes a designation of the mode in which the reconciliation was effected. (Atonement=reconciliation, in Sir Thos. More, Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Bps. Hall and Taylor; =expiation, in Milton, Swift, and Cowper. Waterland (Disc, of Fundamentals, v. p. 82): “the doctrine of expiation, atonement, or satisfaction, made by Christ in his blood.”)

3Soame Jenyns.

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