[comments below]


1) Unconscious participation in the atonement of Christ, by virtue of our common humanity in him, makes us the heirs of much temporal blessing. Conscious participation in the atonement of Christ, by virtue of our faith in him and his work for us, gives us justification and eternal life. Matthew Henry said that the Atonement is “sufficient for all ; effectual for many.” J. M. Whiton, in The Outlook, Sept. 25, 1897—”It was Samuel Hopkins of Rhode Island (1721-1803) who first declared that Christ had made atonement for all men, not for the elect part alone, as Calvinists affirmed.”We should say “as some Calvinists affirmed”; for, as we shall see, John Calvin himself declared that “Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world.” Alfred Tennyson once asked an old Methodist woman what was the news. “Why, Mr. Tennyson, there ‘s only one piece of news that I know,— that Christ died for all men.” And he said to her: “That is old news, and good news, and new news.”  Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium (Valley Forge, PA: The Judson Press, 1907), 772. [Some reformatting and underlining mine.]

2) Richards, Theology, 302-307, shows that Calvin, while in his early work, the Institutes, he avoided definite statements of his position with regard to the extent of the atonement, yet in his latter works, the Commentaries, he acceded to the theory of universal atonement. Supralapsarianism is therefore hyper-Calvinistic, rather than Calvinistic. Sublapsarianisin was adopted by the Synod of Dort ( 1618, 1619 ). By Supralapsarian is meant that form of doctrine which holds the decree of individual salvation as preceding the decree to permit the fall; Sublapsarian designates that form of doctrine which holds that the decree of individual salvation is subsequent to the decree to permit the fall.

The progress in Calvin’s thought may be seen by comparing some of his earlier with his later utterances. Institutes, 2:23:5—” I say, with Augustine, that the Lord created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed.” But even then in the Institutes, 3:23:8, he affirms that “the perdition of the wicked depends upon the divine predestination in such a manner that the cause and matter of it are found in themselves. Man falls by the appointment of divine providence, but he falls by his own fault.” God’s blinding, hardening, turning the sinner he describes as the consequence of the divine desertion, not the divine causation. The relation of God to the origin of sin is not efficient, but permissive. In later days Calvin wrote in his Commentary on 1 John 2:2—”he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world”—as follows: “Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and in the goodness of God is offered unto all men without distinction [Rom. 5:18], his blood being shed not for a part of the world only, but for the whole human race [Mark 14:24]; for although in the world nothing is found worthy of the favor of God, yet he holds out the propitiation to the whole world, since without exception he summons all to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than the door unto hope” [John 3:16].  Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium (Valley Forge, PA: The Judson Press, 1907), 777-778. [Some reformatting; square bracketed inserts mine; italics mine; and underlining mine.]

[Notes: 1)While Richards and Strong have correctly identified Calvin’s position on the extent of the satisfaction, Richards is incorrect to posit that Calvin changed his mind regarding the extent of atonement. There is no evidence that Calvin held to limited atonement early in his life, and then moved to embrace unlimited atonement later. 2) Regarding the second comment, Strong’s formatting leaves much to be desired. At first glance, it may appear that Strong is extracting a single quotation from Calvin, and that from his commentary on 1 John 2:2. Strong is quoting free separate sources from Calvin’s commentaries. Firstly, Calvin’s comments on 1 John 2:2, and then the three separate references: Romans 5:18, Mark 14:24, and lastly John 3:16. For the last, Strong appears to be citing an older unknown translation of Calvin on John 3:16, or perhaps his own translation. Early English translations of Calvin on John 3:16 translated propitium as reconciliation or propitiation. 4) Thus Strong has extracted multiple comments from Calvin and then collapsed them into an apparently single quotation string:

i) 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.

ii) He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him. John Calvin. Romans 5:18.

iii) “Which is shed for many.” By the word “many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke–Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated. John Calvin, Mark 14:24.

iv) “That whosoever believes on him may not perish…” And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled [Latin, propitium: propitious, merciful, favorable] to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. John 3:16.

Thus, it is now apparent that Strong is correctly citing Calvin.]

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 at 1:06 pm and is filed under Pre- and Post-20th Century Historiography on Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement. 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.

11 comments so far


You’ve got a typo in your heading – you’ve left out the “r” in “Strong”.

An intriguing website – I consult it often.

November 29th, 2010 at 4:34 am

Thanks Mark for picking that up.

Can you tell me how the site intrigues you?


November 29th, 2010 at 9:52 am

Exploring the differences between Calvin and his interpreters/followers is intriguing. Lutherans have a long history of polemics with Calvinism, but clearly we need to be more accurate in representing Calvin’s positions and in distinguishing between moderate Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism.

November 30th, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Hey Mark,

Thanks for replying. I would agree. I think all sides needs to do more historical investigation. The only thing I would add is that some of us believe there are three categories of Calvinism. What Ive called the classic-moderate position. The High Calvinist position, and then hypercalvinism. The first holds to predestination and unlimited expiation (ie, unlimited extent, with limited effectual intent). The second holds to predestination, with limited expiation (extent and intent). The last is like the high, but denies the free and well-meant offer of the gospel and other things.

On a side note, I see a lot of Lutherans misunderstand Calvin’s view of Baptism. Calvin did hold that in Baptism, the child is regenerated by the Spirit, and this as a normal event. But many Lutherans seem to ascribe to Calvin a sort of early-Zwinglian-baptist-like view of baptism. When Calvin is rightly understood, there is a lot more common ground than we often think.

Thanks again,

December 1st, 2010 at 9:57 am

Yes, those categories make sense to me from my reading of Calvinist authors, but Anglophone Calvinism seems to have been formed in the High Calvinist view by virtue of the influence of the Westmintser Confession.

Intersting then, David, that the Presbyterian Church of Australia has modified its subscription to the Westminster Confession by asserting in their Declaratory Statement that the confession is to be understood in light of “the love of God to all mankind”. This would place the PCA firmly in the classic-moderate camp, would it not?

December 2nd, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Re: Westminister. Yes, it seems the case that the entire British and wider Reformed tradition, has been read through a Westminster filter. But even then, one reading of the Westminster. The current narrative of limited expiation and sin-bearing negates or ignores that the fact that many moderates were at Westminster and signed the document, or that many later moderates assented to the Westminster. Anything outside of this selective reading is ignored or devalued. Ive read places and comments from folk who thought that Calamy was either just dishonest or crazy. The Anglicans, as a result, often feel disenfranchised and excluded from the English Reformation. And hence all the pushing and resentment on both sides.

Re: PC Australia. Technically you are right. However, on the particular parish level, many pastors just ignore the Declaratory Act entirely. I am sure they would like it repealed. That Declaration was based on an earlier Scottish one, almost word for word. Its really fantastic. I wish more folk would investigate it and check out the history of the theology, rather than just bag it.

Did You realize that I am Australian? though working in the USA?


December 6th, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Great post here! Pure gold.

Interesting discussion as well. David, you’ll forgive me for my tongue-in-cheek anti-infant-baptism post last week . . . I did of course clarify that paedobaptism vs. believers’ baptism is only a “minor” disagreement among Protestants. :)

Pr. Henderson, I agree that there is sometimes an unfortunate misunderstanding between Lutherans and Calvinists. I’ve often heard Lutheran thinkers say Calvinists force logical solutions onto every theological paradox, while Lutherans leave paradoxes undefined and mysterious. But I’ve been collecting examples of moderate Calvinists affirming paradox and mystery, from Piper all the way back to Augustine, and on this site there are volumes of implicit and explicit affirmations of paradox from Calvinists in the moderate camp. All of this gives me hope for greater understanding and agreement between moderate Calvinists and our Lutheran brothers. We each have things to learn from each other.

Some high and hyper Calvinists call our paradoxes mere contradictions, but they have to get around Scripture in order to substantiate the claim. Some pretend to remove paradoxes through contrived, fanciful interpretations, but these are little more than an attempt to avoid the problem.

Derek Ashton

December 12th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Hi David,

Yes, I think Lito over at Extra Nos mentioned to me that you are Australian…that’s why I mentioned the PCA. That’s another thing that “intrigues” me – the doctrinal development of the PCA and the history behind the Declaratory Statement. In regard to PCA pastors, I understand the Calvinistic revival has had an impact on them, but why -apart from a pre-commitment to High Calvinism – would someone have a problem with “the love of God to all mankind”? (It’s a rhetorical question – I know the hyper-Calvinist arguments!) :0)

December 19th, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Hi Mark,

I don’t want to go to far afield here, but only to address the rhetorical question you posed – who would have a problem with “the love of God to all mankind.” Knowing the hyper arguments is OK to some extent, if only for the sake of having that filthy little morsel of knowledge banging around inside the head like a pea being rattled in a tin can. A little noise puts peaceful truth in clearer context.

I keep waiting for someone more theologically (or mystically) inclined than myself to identify that problem of God Being “loving to all mankind” as something more akin to Bilbo’s ring than a quest for what is truly true. There’s a covetousness there that runs deep enough to desire to shut the door on anyone who doesn’t fit the bill to belong.

Sorry, David, if I went on a bit. This just keeps being such a disturbing thing to me.

January 12th, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Please pardon the off-topic, but I’m leaving this related link for a friend of yours, from a conversation after Church.

January 30th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Great post, David, very helpful. Thanks.

August 22nd, 2012 at 5:05 am

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