[comments below]

Redemption and Atonement,

Not the Same


(From the Theological Magazine.)

BETWEEN atonement and redemption, divines, as yet, so far as I have been acquainted, have made no distinction. They have always considered those terms as conveying one and the same idea. It is thought to be evident, however, that redemption and atonement are, by no means, convertible terms. This evidence arises out of the holy scriptures. Atonement is for sin; redemption is from sin. The word redemption however, in the third chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and in some other places, signifies the same as atonement. But, in those places it is used by a figure, the effect for the cause. Redemption, in its proper sense, and as the word is used in the holy scriptures, doth not mean, the precious things by which captives are delivered from bondage, but it is deliverance itself. Sinners do not obtain redemption through redemption, but through the precious blood of Christ: his blood is not redemption itself; it is the price of redemption. And it is through this precious blood, that believers have redemption, even the forgiveness of their sins; through this blood they obtain deliverance from eternal death; through this blood also, they obtain the salvation of their souls, even eternal life.

Redemption is deliverance from evil. And the Greek word Apolutrusis which signifies redemption, is used by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, for deliverance. “And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance.”1 Redemption, in the holy scriptures sometimes means deliverance from natural, and sometimes from moral evil, and sometimes it implies exemption from both kinds of evil. In the book of Job it is said, “in famine he shall redeem thee from death: and in war from the power of the sword.” The apostle Peter speaks of redemption from sin;2 the apostle Paul means the same by redemption as the forgiveness of sin:3 and it is also spoken of as implying eternal life.4 These great blessings simply in atonement are not implied. This, however, will more abundantly appear from the following considerations:

1. “Christ died, not for a select number of men only, but for mankind universally, and without exception or limitation. The sacred writers are singularly emphatical in expressing this truth. They speak not only of Christ’s dying for us–for our sins–for sinners–for the ungodly–for the unjust; but affirm, in yet more extensive terms, that he died for the world—for the whole world; that Christ gave himself a ransom for all; yea, that he tasted death for every man.”

The Greek word for ransom, is, Antilutron which signifies the price of redemption. The price of redemption, therefore, is given for all men; that is, atonement is made for the sins of the whole world. But, that redemption itself is not equally extensive with the price of redemption, will appear evident by attending to the holy scriptures. A few passages cited from St. John’s Revelation only, will be sufficient for the present purpose, lie, speaking of the saints, saith, “And they sung a new song, saying: Thou art worthy to take the book and open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”

And in another place in the same revelation, referring to the saints, it is said, “These were redeemed from among men.” Atonement, therefore, extends to every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; but the redeemed are gathered out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. Hence atonement extends to all men, but redemption will apply only to a number from among men.

2. Atonement doth not imply the forgiveness of sin. This is evident for, when ail things were made ready, through the blood of Christ, and sinners invited to the gospel feast, the language not only of some, but of every one was, “I pray thee have me excused.” These were undoubtedly impenitent sinners; they were those, however, for whom Christ died; otherwise it never would have been said to them, “Come, for all things are now ready.” Redemption implies, not only that there is a way opened for the forgiveness of sin, but it implies forgiveness itself. It implies deliverance from the dominion of sin; it implies also exemption from the wages of sin. This is evident from the reasoning of the apostle Peter, in his address to those to whom he wrote: “Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, from your vain conversation, but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb, without blemish and without spot.”5 This is the blood of atonement, which speaks better things than the blood of Abel. Through this blood, eternal redemption conies to sinners. Atonement therefore is the foundation of redemption, and not redemption itself. The latter is good enjoyed by men; the former, the channel through which good cometh. Atonement proclaims liberty to the captives, the opening of the prison to those who are bound; it opens the way to the chamber of the bridegroom; but to go in, and partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb, is reserved for the redeemed only. “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins: these are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes: these were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God, and to the Lamb.”6 Whithersoever the Lamb goes, him all the redeemed follow. But this is not the case with respect to all those for whom atonement is made: for there are some who “deny the Lord who bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”

3. Between good men, and those who were redeemed from among men, the holy scriptures make no distinction.

Redemption, therefore, implies regeneration. In atonement the new birth itself is not implied: It only renders it consistent for God to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. All the redeemed are cordial friends to the Lord Jesus Christ: but thousands for whom atonement is made, are his greatest enemies. Good men, and redeemed men, mean the same. This is evident. The prophet Isaiah, therefore, speaking of the way of holiness, saith, “No lion shall be there; nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Every excellency of character which belongs to good men. is also ascribed to the redeemed from among men. Of the redeemed, therefore, it is said, “In their mouth there is found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God.”

4. If there were no difference between atonement and redemption, to pray for the one would be equally improper as to pray for the other. But it was a common thing for saints of old to pray for redemption; yet we find none of them ever praying for atonement. It is true, however, that Katallage, the Greek word for atonement, is the same which the inspired writers use for reconciliation; and there is the greatest propriety in praying that we may be subjects of reconciliation. Hence said the apostle, “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” It is evident, however, that for reconciliation, as made by Christ, for the sins of the people, we ought not to pray. “Christ was made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high-priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Now, in this sense of reconciliation or atonement, the work is already completed, even if reconciliation, as an exercise of our heart, doth never take place. Hence, atonement, in the sense of the word now under consideration, was completed when Christ rose from the dead; for “he was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” It would not be proper, therefore, to pray that Christ would make atonement for sin, because this he did while in the days of his flesh, by his obedience unto death To pray for atonement, therefore, would be implicitly to pray that Christ might die a second time. But of the propriety in praying for redemption, we have examples from the best authority. The psalmist prays for mercy and redemption in the same sentence. “But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me.”–“Draw nigh to my soul and redeem it.”

The work of atonement being already finished, and the work of redemption implying a building, which God is now rearing up on the foundation of atonement, prove their difference. We are informed by the apostle, that believers are sealed unto the day of redemption.7 The day of judgment, with the righteous, will emphatically be the day of redemption. When, therefore, they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory, they will look up, and lift up their heads; for their redemption draws nigh.8

From the observations which have now been made, we infer the following remarks:–

1. Not to distinguish between atonement and salvation is an error.

2. Notwithstanding Christ has given himself a ransom for all, yet none will be profited thereby, except those, who, by a true and living faith, are united to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the living bread, the bread of atonement, which, if a man eat, he shall live forever. But he who eats not of this bread shall die, being destitute of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

3. “Christ has given himself a ransom for all.” On this the Universalists pretend to build their scheme? but, if the above distinction be just, they cannot, with any propriety, infer universal redemption (salvation) from the universal of the ransom or price of redemption. Universal atonement therefore is consistent with particular redemption: it is also consistent with the doctrine of election.

Atonement is the price of redemption. Redemption itself is the actual exemption and escape from bondage. No one is redeemed therefore from the curse of the law, until he is united to the Lord Jesus Christ. Of man, nothing is required in order to atonement; but, in order to redemption, or deliverance from the curse of the law, it is necessary that he be reconciled to God, or that he receive the atonement.

4. To distinguish between redemption and the application of redemption is improper. But between atonement and the application of atonement there is the same propriety of distinction as between atonement and redemption.

Source: Sermons, Essays, and Extracts, by Various Authors; Selected with Special Respect to the Great Doctrine of Atonement, (New York: Printed and Sold, by George Forman, 1815), 171-177. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; footnote values modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.]

[Notes: 1) Unfortunately this essay was published anonymously. I hope to try to track down the original source in time. 2) The separation and distinction between atonement and redemption now can be documented as being invoked as far back as 1811, in terms of this republication. This being a republication, the idea clearly predates 1811. We know that the distinction was utilized by Richards (1767-1843), Welsh, Smith (1815-1877), Dabney (1815-1877), and Shedd (1820–1894).  3) This distinction allowed 19th these American Presbyterians to remain true to both Scripture and the Westminster Confession.  4) In classic Augustinian thought, however, the redemption and the expiation both had universal and particular referents and aspects. For example, in classic Reformed thought, an objective payment (as a satisfaction) was effected by the shedding of Christ’s blood, which properly “bought” and “redeemed” all mankind. However, the subjective application to any given man was conditioned by faith and repentance. Thus, in this line of thinking, there was redemption accomplished and redemption applied: the latter being universal, the former being limited. And the application of the redemption, itself, was twofold, redemption applied in the effectual call, and redemption applied in the final eschaton. 5) One critical problem with this distinction is 2 Peter 2:1, which uses redemptio language with regard to the unbelieving apostates, and their objective redemption (see, CalvinLuther, and Adams, (et al).]


1Heb. xi. 35.

21 Pet- i. 18.

3Col. i.. 14.

41 Cor. i. 30. Heb. ix. 11.

51 Pet. i. 18, 19.

6Rev. xiv. 4.

7Eph. iv. 30.

8Luke xxi. 8.

This entry was posted on Friday, January 15th, 2010 at 2:16 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. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment


Personally I think the atonement vs redemption distinction is the sine qua non argument. I think it has been under utilized and even less so really studied for force. I am probably biased since this was one of my original ideas years ago before I had time or tools to develop the theme and was theological hijacked by the uber logical conclusionists

March 5th, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Leave a reply

Name (*)
Mail (will not be published) (*)